RESEARCH: Male moths make perfume to attract females

Male moths make perfume to attract females, say scientists in a new study in July 2023.

The male Tobacco Budworm Moth (Chloridea virescens) collects perfume – a sweet-smelling chemical – from flowers and emits the scent from its appendages when it courts a female. The perfume makes the male more attractive to the female. 

Previously, scientists knew that the female moth released scented chemicals to lure a male from long distances to come closer to her, but less was known how the male moth used scent.

Researcher Coby Schal at North Carolina State University, and his colleagues, studied how the Tobacco Budworm Moth collected methyl salicylate from flowers to increase their mating success. Methyl salicylate is found in the nectar of many different plants and has a sweet, minty odour that attracts a variety of insects. The female moth has two receptors on her antennae to detect methyl salicylate.

New Scientist magazine (August 2023) reported on Coby Schal’s research, stating that the researchers measured methyl salicylate levels in male moths reared on a synthetic diet in a laboratory and other male moths collected from a soya bean field. The researchers found that lab-reared male moths had low levels of the chemical, whereas male moths from the field had high levels of the scent because they collected it from soy bean flowers.

When male moths were trying to attract female moths, they released methyl salicylate from their hair pencils. Hair pencils are hairy-tipped appendages from a moth’s abdominal cavity that emit a range of chemicals for communication. 

When scientists removed the hair pencils from male moths, their success in attracting females decreased by 30%. 

Journal reference: Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2023.07.010

Photographer: Jan van Arkel


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