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J Exp Biol. 2004 Jan;207(Pt 1):87-94.

Learning, odour preference and flower foraging in moths.

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Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane 4072, Australia.


Floral volatiles play a major role in plant-insect communication. We examined the influence of two volatiles, phenylacetaldehyde and alpha-pinene, on the innate and learnt foraging behaviour of the moth Helicoverpa armigera. In dual-choice wind tunnel tests, adult moths flew upwind towards both volatiles, with a preference for phenylacetaldehyde. When exposure to either of these volatiles was paired with a feeding stimulus (sucrose), all moths preferred the learnt odour in the preference test. This change in preference was not seen when moths were exposed to the odour without a feeding stimulus. The learnt preference for the odour was reduced when moths were left unfed for 24 h before the preference test. We tested whether moths could discriminate between flowers that differed in a single volatile component. Moths were trained to feed on flowers that were odour-enhanced using either phenylacetaldehyde or alpha-pinene. Choice tests were then carried out in an outdoor flight cage, using flowers enhanced with either volatile. Moths showed a significant preference for the flower type on which they were trained. Moths that were conditioned on flowers that were not odour-enhanced showed no preference for either of the odour-enhanced flower types. The results imply that moths may be discriminating among odour profiles of individual flowers from the same species. We discuss this behaviour within the context of nectar foraging in moths and odour signalling by flowering plants.

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