Cabbage Butterfly defensive hairs.

Woody Woods woody.woods at
Sun Nov 10 17:33:42 EST 2002

We hit 70 today (west of Boston), without a butterfly to be seen, though
there were four species of dipterans-- dunno what, but the numbers were
impressive-- and numerous moths.

About this quote from the Science News article about "mayolenes" in P.
rapae: "However, the final compounds more closely resembles substances
produced in plants' injury responses than in other caterpillar defenses, say
the researchers."-- have a look at the June issue (v. 42) of Integrative and
Comparative Biology (formerly American Zoologist), which includes several
papers examining parallels between plant and animal responses to different
challenges. I can't help but wonder how many more of these parallels are
waiting to be found, but haven't been yet because of the traditional divide
between plant and animal physiology research.


William A. Woods Jr.
Department of Biology
University of Massachusetts Boston
100 Morrissey Blvd
Boston, MA 02125

Lab: 617-287-6642
Fax: 617-287-6650

> From: Michael Gochfeld <gochfeld at EOHSI.RUTGERS.EDU>
> Organization: EOHSI
> Reply-To: gochfeld at EOHSI.RUTGERS.EDU
> Date: Sat, 09 Nov 2002 21:02:10 -0500
> To: leps-l at
> Subject: Cabbage Butterfly defensive hairs.
> I just saw this Science News version of an interesting paper. from  of
> May 11, 2002; Vol. 161, No. 19 . I thought I'd pass it on.
> Pieris rapae and both species of Colias were flying today in Somerset,
> NJ  when the air temp reached 64F.
==> =
> No Tickling: Common caterpillars deploy defensive hair
> Caterpillars of the European cabbage butterfly, which has invaded most
> of North America, turn out to bristle with a kind of
> defense system that scientists have not documented before.
> Picture online is POOR!!!!!!
> YUK. Repellant droplets on hairs of the European cabbage butterfly
> caterpillar send an ant into a cleaning frenzy (inset).
> The caterpillars sprout hairs that carry droplets of a novel predator
> repellent derived from a fatty acid, says Thomas
> Eisner of Cornell University. Ants tend to avoid the caterpillars or
> spend an unusual amount of time cleaning themselves
> after contact, Eisner and his colleagues report in an upcoming issue of
> the Proceedings of the National Academy of
> Sciences.
> "Here's something new about a species that's dirt-common," marvels
> entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois
> at Urbana-Champaign. Eisner's team named the oddball repellents
> mayolenes after her. A footnote in the paper clarifies that
> this is an honor.
> The repellent-dotted species, Pieris rapae, hitchhiked to Canada in 1860
> from its native Eurasia and North Africa. The
> adult butterfly's chalky wings, with a dark spot or two, have become a
> familiar sight coast to coast in the United States.
> The repellent's defensive powers could easily have sped the species'
> proliferation, Eisner says.
> Soft and slow, caterpillars often turn to chemical warfare, he explains.
> For example, some carry poisons that their fathers
> transferred to their mothers along with sperm. Other caterpillars, when
> attacked, regurgitate the remains of noxious
> plants.
> Researchers had previously documented defensive glandular hairs in
> beetle pupae, and entomologists have speculated that the
> little droplets atop the hairs of the cabbage butterfly caterpillars
> might also offer some kind of protection. Eisner says
> he knows of no previous attempts to test the idea.
> In one behavioral experiment, his team confined a predator, an ant
> species from the Northeast, with a European cabbage
> butterfly caterpillar or a mealworm of similar size. The ants probed the
> caterpillars much less often than they poked at
> mealworms. In another experiment, the scientists washed the caterpillars
> with solvent and then offered them to the ant. The
> deterrent effect had disappeared.
> To look into the chemistry behind the deterrence, the researchers
> collected droplets from hundreds of caterpillars. The
> deterrent chemicals fell apart easily when exposed to heat and acids, so
> the team developed novel techniques. The
> researchers learned that mayolenes are derived from a common fatty
> substance, linolenic acid. However, the final compounds
> more closely resembles substances produced in plants' injury responses
> than in other caterpillar defenses, say the
> researchers.
> Eisner says that he himself can't sniff anything repellant in the
> mayolenes, much to Berenbaum's relief. "If they're named
> after me, I sincerely hope they don't smell bad," she says.
> References:
> Smedley, S.R., . . . and T. Eisner. 2002. Mayolenes: Labile defensive
> lipids from the glandular hairs of a caterpillar
> (Pieris rapae). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99(May
> 14):6822-6827. Abstract available at
> Further Readings:
> Milius, S. 1998. How bright is a butterfly? Science News 153(April
> 11):233-235. Available at
> For pictures of the adult European Cabbage White butterfly, see
> Sources:
> May Berenbaum
> Department of Entomology
> University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
> 505 South Goodwin Avenue
> Urbana, IL 61801
> Thomas Eisner
> Neurobiology and Behavior
> Cornell University
> Ithaca, NY 14853
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