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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Dec 19;97(26):14406-11.

Chemical defense: bestowal of a nuptial alkaloidal garment by a male moth on its mate.

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Department of Biology, Wake Forest University, P. O. Box 7325, Winston-Salem, NC 27109, USA.


Males of the moth Cosmosoma myrodora (Arctiidae) acquire pyrrolizidine alkaloid by feeding on the excrescent fluids of certain plants (for instance, Eupatorium capillifolium). They incorporate the alkaloid systemically and as a result are protected against spiders. The males have a pair of abdominal pouches, densely packed with fine cuticular filaments, which in alkaloid-fed males are alkaloid laden. The males discharge the filaments on the female in bursts during courtship, embellishing her with alkaloid as a result. The topical investiture protects the female against spiders. Alkaloid-free filaments, from alkaloid-deprived males, convey no such protection. The males also transmit alkaloid to the female by seminal infusion. The systemic alkaloid thus received, which itself may contribute to the female's defense against spiders, is bestowed in part by the female on the eggs. Although paternal contribution to egg defense had previously been demonstrated for several arctiid moths, protective nuptial festooning of a female by its mate, such as is practiced by C. myrodora, appears to be without parallel among insects.

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