Send to

Choose Destination
J Exp Biol. 2014 Jul 1;217(Pt 13):2250-60. doi: 10.1242/jeb.093716. Epub 2014 Apr 15.

Reduced consumption of protein-rich foods follows immune challenge in a polyphagous caterpillar.

Author information

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309, USA
Department of Biology, University of Nevada Reno, Reno, NV 89557, USA.
Department of Biology, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06457, USA.


Advances in ecological immunity have illustrated that, like vertebrates, insects exhibit adaptive immunity, including induced changes in feeding behavior that aid the immune system. In particular, recent studies have pointed to the importance of protein intake in mounting an immune response. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that the polyphagous caterpillar Grammia incorrupta (H. Edwards) (Family: Erebidae) would adaptively change its feeding behavior in response to immune challenge, predicting that caterpillars would increase their intake of dietary protein. We further predicted that this response would enhance the melanization response, a component of the immune system that acts against parasitoids. We challenged the immune system using either tachinid fly parasitoids or a bead injection technique that has been used in studies to simulate parasitism, and measured feeding before and after immune challenge on diets varying in their macronutrient content. To evaluate the effects of diet on melanization, we quantified melanization of beads following feeding assays. Contrary to our prediction, we found that parasitized or injected caterpillars given a choice between high- and low-protein foods reduced their intake of the high-protein food. Furthermore, in a no-choice experiment, caterpillars offered food with a protein concentration that is optimal for growth reduced feeding following immune challenge, whereas those offered a low-protein food did not. Although variation in protein intake did not change the caterpillars' melanization response, increased carbohydrate intake did increase melanization, suggesting a prophylactic role for carbohydrates. We discuss alternative mechanisms by which variation in protein intake could negatively or positively affect parasitized caterpillars, including nutritional interactions with the caterpillar's self-medication response.


Bead injection; Ecological immunity; Illness-induced anorexia; Macronutrient; Parasitoid

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire
Loading ...
Support Center