Journal of comparative physiology

, Volume 82, Issue 2, pp 103–134 | Cite as

Electrophysiological studies of gustation in lepidopterous larvae

II. Taste spectra in relation to food-plant discrimination
  • V. G. Dethier


Comparisons were made of the eleotrophysiological responses of the maxillary gustatory receptors of the following categories of caterpillars: (1) three closely related species (Papilio polyxenes L.,P. troilus L., andP. glaucus L.) each of which feeds on a different group of plants; (2) two unrelated oligophagous species (P. glaucus L. andMalacosoma americana Fabr.) that have one preferred food plant in common; (3) three unrelated monophagous species (Danaus plexippus L.,Euchaetias egle Drury, andPygarctia eglenensis Clemens) that share the same plant. Materials tested included sodium chloride, carbohydrates, amino acids, glycosides, and the saps ofDaucus carota L. andFoeniculum vulgare Mill. (the food plants ofP. polyxenes),Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) andLindera Benzoin (L.) (the food plants ofP. troilus),Prunus virginiana L. (a favored food ofP. glaucus andM. americana),Asclepias syriaca L. andApocynum androsaemifolium L. (eaten byD. plexippus,E. egle, andP. eglenensis), andBrassica oleraceae L. (food plant ofPieris rapae).

The following conclusions were drawn: (1) no species of caterpillar gives a single standard electrophysiological response to all of the plants it rejects; that is, rejection is not a unitary modality; (2) a plant that is unacceptable to several species of caterpillars does not elicit the same pattern of response from each; (3) a food plant that is shared by several species of caterpillars does not elicit the same pattern of response from each; (4) a species of caterpillar that has more than one food plant does not generate the same sensory pattern to each; (5) there is no universal difference between sensory patterns for acceptance and those for rejection.

A model based upon the hypothesis of across-fiber patterning is proposed to explain these results. The essence of this model is that the receptors have unique but overlapping action spectra and that each compound or mixture of compounds in leaf saps that can be discriminated generates a unique total pattern of response. Whether or not a plant is ingested depends, therefore, not on the presence or absence of a single stimulant or deterrent but upon the total sensory impression derived from integrated response to multiple plant components. Prior to the first bite a caterpillar makes its first discrimination on the basis of olfactory clues.


Sodium Chloride Food Plant Benzoin Electrophysiological Response Unitary Modality 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • V. G. Dethier
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyPrinceton UniversityPrinceton

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