Eur. J. Entomol. 109 (3): 411-417, 2012 | 10.14411/eje.2012.053

Vibratory territorial signals in caterpillars of the poplar lutestring, Tethea or (Lepidoptera: Drepanidae)

Jaclyn L. SCOTT, Jayne E. YACK
Department of Biology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Dr., Ottawa, ON, K1S 5B6 Canada; e-mail: jyack@connect.carleton.ca

Caterpillars of the poplar lutestring moth, Tethea or, construct leaf shelters that they defend against intruding conspecifics using a combination of vibratory signals and physical aggression. Staged interactions between a resident caterpillar and introduced conspecific were recorded with a video camera and laser vibrometer. Residents crawl towards the intruder and perform three behaviours: lateral hitting, pushing, and mandible scraping. Vibrations caused by mandible scraping result from the caterpillar repeatedly scraping opened mandibles laterally against the leaf surface in bouts lasting 1.16 ± 0.39 s, with an average of 4 ± 1 scrapes per bout. We propose that these scrapes function in leaf shelter defense against conspecifics for the following reasons: Mandible scrapes are produced only by residents; they are generated when a resident is approached by an intruder; the rate of scraping increases as the intruder approaches the shelter; and residents in all trials retain their shelters, with the intruder leaving the leaf within 127.9 ±104.3s from the beginning of the trial. The function and evolutionary origins of vibration-mediated territoriality in caterpillars are discussed.

Keywords: Drepanidae, Thyatirinae, Tethea or, larva, defense, vibration, communication, mandible scraping, territory, leaf shelter

Received: May 3, 2011; Accepted: April 2, 2012; Published: July 2, 2012

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