Researchers discover sophisticated alarm signaling in a primitive insect

March 16, 2016, Wiley

Many insect species respond to danger by producing chemical alarm signals, or alarm pheromones, to inform others. In a recent study, investigators found that their alarm may be even be context dependent.

The researchers discovered that larvae of the Western Flower Thrips produce an whose composition of 2 chemicals, decyl acetate and dodecyl acetate, varies with the level of danger they face. When is excreted with a predator present but not attacking, the percentage of dodecyl acetate increases, whereas when a predator does attack, the percentage of dodecyl is low.

"This type of communication was so far only known from vocal calling in mammals, and people thought insect pheromones have fixed composition," said Dr. Martijn Egas, co-author of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology study.

"When we decided to measure the composition in various contexts, we found variation straight away, and another recent study found that aphids can change the release and amount of their one-compound alarm pheromone. So now we think that this sophisticated chemical signaling is widespread, and this opens a lot of new research questions on the origin and evolution of alarm signaling."

Explore further: Call for arms and stings: Social wasps use alarm pheromones to coordinate their attacks

More information: de Bruijn, P. J. A., Egas, M., Sabelis, M. W. and Groot, A. T. (2016), Context-dependent alarm signalling in an insect. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 29: 665-671. DOI: 10.1111/jeb.12813

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not rated yet Mar 16, 2016
Even plants have been shown to release pheromones and other warning chemicals that other plants can detect as warning signals which results in either discouraging the plant eater with a 'bad taste' or perhaps it is a chemical signal to other parts of the plant itself to grow in different areas to offset the amount of the plant being eaten. Warning systems have been in place since very very early on the Life Tree, otherwise the rest of the tree would have never branched out to become the wide diversity of life forms we have today.

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