, 19:235 | Cite as

Target-site sensitivity in a specialized herbivore towards major toxic compounds of its host plant: the Na+K+-ATPase of the oleander hawk moth (Daphnis nerii) is highly susceptible to cardenolides

  • Georg PetschenkaEmail author
  • Susanne Dobler
Short Communication


The caterpillars of the oleander hawk moth, Daphnis nerii (Linnaeus, 1758) (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae) feed primarily on oleander (Nerium oleander). This plant is rich in cardenolides, which specifically inhibit the Na+K+-ATPase. Since some insects feeding on cardenolide plants possess cardenolide-resistant Na+K+-ATPases, we tested whether D. nerii also possesses this strategy for circumventing cardenolide toxicity. To do so, we established a physiological assay, which allowed direct measurement of Na+K+-ATPase cardenolide sensitivity. Using Schistocerca gregaria, as a cardenolide-sensitive reference species, we showed that D. nerii Na+K+-ATPase was extremely sensitive to the cardenolide ouabain. Surprisingly, its sensitivity is even higher than that of the cardenolide-sensitive generalist, S. gregaria. The presence or absence of cardenolides in the diet of D. nerii did not influence the enzyme’s cardenolide sensitivity, indicating that target-site insensitivity is not inducible in this species. However, despite the sensitivity of their Na+K+-ATPase, caterpillars of D. nerii quickly recovered from an injection of an excessive amount of ouabain into their haemocoel. We conclude that D. nerii possesses adaptations, which enable it to feed on a cardenolide-rich diet other than that previously described in cardenolide specialized insects, and discuss other potential resistance mechanisms.


Daphnis nerii Nerium oleander Cardenolides Ouabain Na+K+-ATPase Adaptation Schistocerca gregaria 



We thank Samuel Waldron, Yvonne Lebrecht and Karin Meyer for help with rearing caterpillars, Kai Fuchsberger (Reutlingen) for his valuable suggestions on data evaluation, and Scott Kelley (San Diego) for correcting the English of the manuscript and for helpful suggestions. Financial support for this study was provided by a Ph.D. scholarship of the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes to G.P. and by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Do527/5-1).


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel/Switzerland 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biozentrum Grindel, Molekulare EvolutionsbiologieHamburgGermany

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