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Diet-induced chemical phytomimesis by twig-like caterpillars of Biston robustum Butler (Lepidoptera: Geometridae)


Polyphagous caterpillars of the giant geometer Biston robustum resemble the twigs of their respective food sources in color and shape. Common predatory ants, including Lasius and Formica, were often observed to freely prowl directly on caterpillars’ bodies, even after antennal contact. This suggests that the cuticular chemicals of the caterpillars resemble those of the twigs of the foodplants, so we analyzed both by GC and GC-MS. The chemical compositions differed among caterpillars fed on a cherry, Prunus yedoensis, a chinquapin Castanopsis cuspidata, and a camellia Camellia japonica. The cuticular chemicals of the caterpillars resembled those of their corresponding food sources. When the caterpillar diets were switched from the cherry to camellia or chinquapin at the 4th instars, the caterpillars’ cuticular chemicals changed after molting to resemble those of their respective foods. Caterpillars also changed their cuticular chemicals when they perched on cherry twigs and fed on camellia or chinquapin leaves, but not when they perched on camellia or chinquapin twigs and fed on cherry leaves. The chemical similarities between the caterpillars and the twigs were due to the digestion of host leaves, which indicates that this is a diet-induced adaptation.

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Correspondence to T. Akino or K.-i. Nakamura or S. Wakamura.

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Akino, T., Nakamura, Ki. & Wakamura, S. Diet-induced chemical phytomimesis by twig-like caterpillars of Biston robustum Butler (Lepidoptera: Geometridae). Evolutionary, Mechanistic and Environmental Approaches to Chemically-Mediated Interactions 14, 165–174 (2004).

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Key words.

  • Biston robustum
  • chemical phytomimesis
  • Prunus yedoensis
  • Castanopsis cuspidata
  • Camellia japonica