Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 31, Issue 11, pp 2551–2561 | Cite as

Similarity of Cuticular Lipids Between a Caterpillar and Its Host Plant: A Way to Make Prey Undetectable for Predatory Ants?

  • Augusto Henrique
  • Arantes Portugal
  • José Roberto Trigo


Ithomiine butterflies (Nymphalidae) have long-lived, aposematic, chemically protected adults. However, little is known about the defense mechanisms in larvae and other juvenile stages. We showed that larvae Mechanitis polymnia are defended from ants by a chemical similarity between their cuticular lipids and those of the host plant, Solanum tabacifolium (Solanaceae). This is a novel defense mechanism in phytophagous insects. A field survey during one season showed that larval survivorship was up to 80%, which is high when compared with other juvenile stages. In a laboratory bioassay, live larvae on their host plant were not attacked by the predatory ant Camponotus crassus (Formicidae). Two experiments showed that the similarity between the cuticular lipids of M. polymnia and S. tabacifolium protected the larvae from C. crassus: (a) when the caterpillar was switched from a host plant to a non-host plant, the predation rate increased, and (b) when a palatable larva (Spodoptera frugiperda, Noctuidae) was coated with the cuticular lipids of M. polymnia and placed on S. tabacifolium leaves, it no longer experienced a high predation rate. This defensive mechanism can be defined as chemical camouflage, and may have a double adaptive advantage, namely, protection against predation and a reduction in the cost of sequestering toxic compounds from the host plant.

Key Words

Camponotus crassus cuticular hydrocarbons chemical camouflage chemical defense Formicidae Ithomiinae Mechanitis polymnia chemical mimicry Solanaceae Solanum tabacifolium 



This work is part of a Master of Science dissertation by AHAP and was supported by grants from FAPESP (98/01065-7 to JRT and 98/00765-5 to AHAP). The authors thank D. Whitmann, E. Bernays, P.S. Oliveira, A.V.L. Freitas, F. Nogueira-de-Sá, M. Hilker, and four anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on the manuscript. We thank also the Instituto Agronômico de Campinas, Fundação José Pedro de Oliveira de Campinas, Prefeitura Municipal de Jundiaí, and Instituto Botânico de São Paulo for permission to work in their areas.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Augusto Henrique
    • 1
  • Arantes Portugal
    • 1
  • José Roberto Trigo
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratório de Ecologia Química, Departamento de Zoologia, Instituto de BiologiaUniversidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP)CampinasBrazil

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