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J Chem Ecol. 2007 Feb;33(2):319-29. Epub 2007 Jan 3.

Spectrum of cyanide toxicity and allocation in Heliconius erato and Passiflora host plants.

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Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of Florida, P.O. Box 110650, Gainesville, FL, 32611-0650, USA.

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  • J Chem Ecol. 2008 May;34(5):696.


The larvae of three races of Heliconius erato were fed various species of Passiflora containing varying levels of cyanoglucosides. The mortality rate of larvae and pupae rose when larvae were fed species of Passiflora capable of releasing larger quantities of cyanide. When larvae were fed species of Passiflora with these properties, the resulting adult butterflies also released higher levels of cyanide. This may serve as a defense mechanism. The compounds responsible for the release of cyanide were not evenly distributed throughout the adult butterfly's body. The thorax contained the highest concentration of cyanogenic substances, followed by the head, wings, and abdomen. The younger tissues of Passiflora plants had higher levels of cyanide-releasing compounds than stems and mature leaves. Cyanogenic glycoside distribution within the plants is consistent with optimal allocation theory. The levels of cyanide-releasing substances in plants varied depending on the season.

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