The scent of love: Decomposition and male sex pheromones

August 13, 2012
Young virgin female hide beetles (Dermestes maculatus) are attracted to cadavers by a combination of cadaver odor and male sex pheromones. Credit: Dr. Heiko Bellmann

Young virgin female hide beetles (Dermestes maculatus) are attracted to cadavers by a combination of cadaver odour and male sex pheromones, finds a new study published in BioMed Central's open access journal Frontiers in Zoology. Neither cadaver scent, nor male sex pheromones alone, caught the fancy of the fussy females. This predilection ensures that there is both a waiting male and food for her larvae, and optimises the chances of reproductive success.

Decomposition of a vertebrate cadaver is a sequential buffet for many carrion species including insects. Different species have evolved preferences for different stages during decomposition. The first to arrive are blow flies and flesh flies, whose larvae feed on the still moist tissue, followed by clown and rove beetles, who eat the larvae. Adult skin/hide beetles will start to arrive and feed on the remaining skin and ligaments, but will not breed until advanced decay has set in.

By the time the cadaver has been reduced to bones, hair, and dried out skin only the larvae of hide beetles, as well as scarabs and checkered beetles remain. The life cycle and sequence of arrival of these flies and beetles is so predictable that it can be used by to estimate time of death.

A team of researchers, led by Christian von Hoermann from Ulm University, Germany, filled olfactometers with different volatile scents and recorded which scents female hide beetles were attracted to. The scents used were pig cadaver, collected at different stages of decay, male pheromone gland extract, synthetic pheromones, and a control, pentane (an which was used to extract the other ).

The females ignored both the control and . In fact they pretty much ignored everything apart from the odour of piglet in the dry remains stage, as long as it was enhanced by male pheromones.

Christian von Hoermann explained, "Although cadaver odour alone is not sufficient to attract two to three week-old virgin female hide beetles, it is enough to attract newly emerged males." Release of pheromones by these males appears to signal the cadaver as an appropriate site for feeding, mating and egg laying. Evolution seems to have ensured that hide beetle females only respond to a mate (or a food source for their larvae) when the other is also present, so that they can optimise the chances of their offspring's survival.

Explore further: Armed beetles find a mate, whatever their size

More information: The attraction of virgin female hide beetles (Dermestes maculatus) to cadavers by a combination of decomposition odour and male sex pheromones, Christian von Hoermann, Joachim Ruther and Manfred Ayasse, Frontiers in Zoology (in press)

Related Stories

Armed beetles find a mate, whatever their size

March 27, 2008

One species of armed beetle is proving that size doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to finding a mate. The creature’s ‘pulling techniques’ will be revealed in the April edition of the Royal Entomological Society’s ...

Entomologists play matchmakers for cerambycid beetles

August 5, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Cerambycid beetles, also known as long-horned beetles, can cause severe damage to standing trees, logs and lumber. How then might they be promptly detected and their numbers swiftly controlled? Two entomologists ...

It's in his smell

March 3, 2009

A female moth selects a mate based on the scent of his pheromones. An analysis of the pheromones used by the European Corn Borer (ECB, Ostrinia nubilalis), featured in the open access journal BMC Biology, shows that females ...

Lustful beetles desire water, not sex

March 5, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Female seed beetles are known for their promiscuity, a surprising fact given that the males of the species have dangerously sharp spikes on their sex organs. Now a U of T Mississauga team led by an undergraduate ...

Ambrosia beetles have highly socialized systems

October 4, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Ambrosia beetles have long eluded scientists when it comes to being able to study their natural social structure. These beetles live deep within the solid wood of trees and when you disturb their natural ...

Plants mimic scent of pollinating beetles

April 3, 2012

The color and scent of flowers and their perception by pollinator insects are believed to have evolved in the course of mutual adaptation. However, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Zurich has now proved that ...

Recommended for you

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

210
1 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2012
Oh Heck,....
"....Young virgin female hide beetles (Dermestes maculatus) are attracted to cadavers by a combination of cadaver odour and male sex pheromones
Read more at: http://phys.org/n...tml#jCp"

This is nothing new and has been tried...this is how Hugh Heffner gets all his women...for crying out loud!

word-to-ya-muthas

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.