They attack both pupae and eggs, and they appear to be driven to cannibalism not so much by hunger as by the PA deficiency itself. Moreover, they target specifically eggs and pupae that are PA-laden rather than PA-free. Possession of high systemic PA loads could therefore, under some circumstances, be endangering to Utetheisa, rather than beneficial. We do not know whether in nature Utetheisa are ever seriously at risk from cannibalism, although it is interesting to note that Utetheisa pupate out of reach of larval attack, in secluded sites away from the foodplant (23). The danger may be real for eggs, however, which are laid on the leaves of Crotalaria and therefore exposed to larvae.

A further finding concerns the stereochemistry of HD and its derivation from PA. Both HD and the primary PAs (monocrotaline, usaramine) that we know to be available to Utetheisa in the field are of the same (7R) stereochemical configuration. It was therefore not surprising to find that Utetheisa is unable to convert a PA of opposite (7S) stereochemistry (heliotrine) into HD. However, we found another arctiid moth, the Asian species Creatonotus transiens, which also produces HD in its coremata, to be able to use 7R and 7S PAs interchangeably for HD production (31). We are tempted to conclude that Creatonotus, unlike Utetheisa, has dietary access to PAs of both stereochemical configurations in its environment.


Parental bestowment of defensive substances upon eggs may be more widespread in insects than generally suspected. Insect eggs, by virtue of immobility alone, are highly vulnerable, and it makes sense that they should be protected. Utetheisa's strategy of utilizing substances of exogenous origin for egg defense is not without parallel. Nor is the strategy of paternal involvement in the provisioning process.

In Apiomerus flaviventris, an assassin bug (family Reduviidae), the female alone provisions the eggs. She procures a terpenoid resin from plants and applies this to the eggs, thereby protecting these from ants (32). Blister beetles (family Meloidae) protect their eggs with cantharidin. The compound is biosynthesized by the beetles, sometimes by the males alone, which transfer it to the females, for incorporation into the eggs (33). Cantharidin is also utilized by Neopyrochroa flabellata, a fire-colored beetle (family Pyrochroidae). In this insect, the cantharidin is procured by the male from an unknown exogenous source and is also transmitted by way of the female to the eggs. Interestingly, the courting male advertises his possession of cantharidin by exuding a small amount of the compound as secretion from a cephalic gland. The female feeds on this secretion prior to mating and rejects males unable to provide such proof of "worth" (31).

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement