|Bogner, FX; Eisner, T: Chemical Basis of Egg Cannibalism in a Caterpillar (Utetheisa ornatrix)., Journal of Chemical Ecology, 17, 2063-2075 (1991)|
Abstract – Larvae of the moth Utetheisa ornatrix are shown to cannibalise eggs in the laboratory. They proved most cannibalistic if they were systemically deficient in pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA), the defensive agent that protects Utetheisa at all stages of development against predation, and which Utetheisa acquire as larvae from their food plant. In exercising cannibalistic choice, Utetheisa larvae feed preferentially on eggs that are PA-laden rather than PA-free. Egg cannibalism can therefore provide Utetheisa with a supplemental means of PA procurement. Moreover, presence of PA in the egg, while providing the egg with defence against predation, can increase its vulnerability to cannibalism. Although evidence is presented that Utetheisa larvae cannibalise eggs in nature, it is argued that such feeding may occur only opportunistically in the wild, rather than as a matter of course. Key Words – Utetheisa ornatrix, Lepidoptera, Arctiidae, pyrrolizidine alkaloid, egg cannibalism, acquired defence, phagostimulant, specific hunger.