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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1994 Jun 21; 91(13): 5756–5760.
PMCID: PMC44075

Reiterative responses to single strands of odor promote sustained upwind flight and odor source location by moths.

Abstract

We characterized single upwind surges of flying male Heliothis virescens moths in response to individual strands of pheromone generated experimentally in a wind tunnel. We then showed how this surge functions in this species as a basic 13.4-cm, 0.38-sec-long building block that is strung together repeatedly during typical male upwind flight in a normal pheromone plume. The template for a single iteration, complete with crosswind casting both before and after the straighter upwind surging portion, was exhibited by males flying upwind to pheromone and experiencing filament contacts just frequently enough to produce successful upwind flight to the source, as hypothesized by an earlier model. Also as predicted, with more frequent filament contact by males, only the straightest upwind portions of the surges were reiterated, producing direct upwind flight with little crosswind casting. Electroantennogram recordings made from males in free flight upwind in a normal point source pheromone plume further support the idea that a high frequency of filaments encountered under the usual pheromone plume conditions promotes only these repeated straight surges. In-flight electroantennogram recordings also showed that when filament contacts cease, the casting, counterturning program begins to be expressed after a latency period of 0.30 sec. Together these results provide a plausible explanation for how male and female moths, and maybe other insects, fly successfully upwind in an odor plume and locate the source of odor, using a surging-casting, phasic-tonic response to the onset and disappearance of each odor strand.

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Selected References

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