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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Sep 2;94(18):9723-8.

Firefly "femmes fatales" acquire defensive steroids (lucibufagins) from their firefly prey.

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Section of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Female fireflies of the genus Photuris, the so-called firefly "femmes fatales," prey on male fireflies of the genus Photinus. The females are able to entrap the males by faking the flash signal characteristics of the Photinus female. We found that by feeding on Photinus males, Photuris females gain more than nutrients. They also acquire defensive steroidal pyrones called lucibufagins, which are contained in Photinus but which Photuris fireflies are unable to produce on their own. Photuris females that eat Photinus males or lucibufagin are rejected by Phidippus jumping spiders. Lucibufagin itself proved to be a deterrent to such spiders. Field-collected Photuris females contain lucibufagin in varying amounts. The more lucibufagin they contain the more unacceptable they are to Phidippus.

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