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Benzoquinones from millipedes deter mosquitoes and elicit self-anointing in capuchin monkeys (Cebus spp.)

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Neotropical monkeys of the genus Cebus anoint themselves by rubbing arthropods and plants against their pelage. A recent study has shown that free-ranging wedge-capped capuchin monkeys (C. olivaceus) in Venezuela self-anoint with a benzoquinone-secreting millipede, an activity by which they are hypothesized to appropriate chemical deterrents of mosquitoes. To evaluate the plausibility of this hypothesis, female yellow fever mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti) were presented with two millipede secretory compounds, 2-methyl-1,4-benzoquinone and 2-methoxy-3-methyl-1,4-benzoquinone, on nylon-reinforced silicone membranes placed over wells filled with human blood, a highly preferred food. Mosquitoes exhibited fewer landings, fed less frequently, and flew more frequently (a possible indication of repellency) in the presence of membranes treated with benzoquinones than with controls. These compounds also elicit self-anointing in captive male and female tufted (C. apella) and white-faced (C. capucinus) capuchin monkeys.

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C. Krater assisted in designing the mosquito test module, and P. Balsley constructed it. J. Butler provided advice on the silicone membrane feeding system. K. Bagnall (Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, Gainesville, Fla.) and S. Evans (DuMond Conservancy, Miami, Fla.) permitted access to test or photograph monkeys. J. Forguson and J. Rockwell assisted in tests of mosquitoes. A. Weatherwax performed the chemical syntheses. C. Greff, J. Greff (Tonal Vision LLC, Baltimore, Md.), and M. Webb prepared figures. K. Nakanishi translated some papers.

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Correspondence to Jeffrey R. Aldrich.

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Weldon, P.J., Aldrich, J.R., Klun, J.A. et al. Benzoquinones from millipedes deter mosquitoes and elicit self-anointing in capuchin monkeys (Cebus spp.). Naturwissenschaften 90, 301–304 (2003).

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