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Defensive Components in Insect Eggs: Are Anthraquinones Produced during Egg Development?


Eggs of several insect species are protected against natural enemies by noxious components. However, almost nothing is known about the fate of these defensive substances during egg development nor their site of biosynthesis. The eggs of several leaf beetle species of the taxon Galerucini contain components that are unusual in insects: 1,8-dihydroxylated anthraquinones and anthrones that deter predators such as ants and birds. These components, i.e., the anthrones dithranol and chrysarobin, and the anthraquinones chrysazin and chrysophanol, are not sequestered from host plants. We asked whether the amounts of these components in the overwintering eggs of Galeruca tanaceti change from deposition to larval hatching. Gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GC-MS) analyses of eggs revealed a significant decrease in total amounts of dithranol and chrysophanol from egg deposition in autumn to the next spring 5 months later. Thus, these results do not provide any hint of active anthraquinone biosynthesis within eggs. Instead, the anthrones and anthraquinones that must be incorporated by the female into the eggs seem to be degraded to some extent either by the embryo or endosymbionts. GC-MS analyses showed that parasitization of eggs had some effects on the quantities of anthrones and anthraquinones.

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We are grateful to Frank Müller for support with the GC-MS analyses. We also thank Barbara Randlkofer, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, and Ina Heidinger, University Wuerzburg, Germany, for help with egg mass collections. This study was supported by a grant of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft Hi 416/16-1,2.

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Correspondence to Monika Hilker.

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Pankewitz, F., Hilker, M. Defensive Components in Insect Eggs: Are Anthraquinones Produced during Egg Development?. J Chem Ecol 32, 2067–2072 (2006).

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  • Chrysomelidae
  • Leaf beetle
  • Insect eggs
  • Diapause
  • Embryogenesis
  • Polyketide
  • Chemical defense
  • Anthraquinone