acquiring moths and pheromones for olfactory tracking

Brian W. Spitzer bwspitzer at
Tue Nov 17 17:54:34 EST 1998

I am a graduate student at UC Davis and am interested in a number of
questions concerning the movements and migration of insects. Of course, one
of the truly thorny problems in studying the movement of insects is that
radio-collaring them is simply impossible, and most of the other methods
(e.g., harmonic radar tracking, radioactive paint, etc.) have severe
drawbacks as well.

I am toying with the idea of tracking small insects with pheromones:
placing a small bead of attractant chemical embedded in a slowly-degrading
matrix on the insect, and releasing it. With luck and the appropriate male
moth on a tether, it seems that a pheromone trail could be followed for
some distance. If feasible, this method could be especially useful for
picking up rare long-distance migration or pollination events.

The problem is acquiring male moths and the right attractant pheromone. I
would like to run some tests with the silkmoth Bombyx mori, but have been
unable to find a commercial source of bombykol. I am also not all that
knowledgeable about moths and am wondering if there are more appropriate
species which I could use. I'm hoping to find a moth which can be reared
and handled easily, is extremely sensitive to a species-specific pheromone,
and (if possible) remains active during at least part of the day. Any and
all suggestions are welcome at

bwspitzer at

Thanks very much!

Brian Spitzer
Graduate Group in Population Biology
University of California, Davis

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