Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Summer Science: Firefly Babies Advertise Their Bitter Taste

Date:
July 4, 1997
Source:
University Of Delaware
Summary:
As children chase twinkling insects and the setting sun throws long shadows across the backyard, consider this: Light cues keep predators from snacking on baby fireflies, according to a UD study published in the Journal of Insect Behavior.

JULY 2, 1997--As children chase twinkling insects and the setting sun throws long shadows across the backyard, consider this: Light cues keep predators from snacking on baby fireflies, according to a UD study published in the Journal of Insect Behavior, released today.

"A flashing neon sign may lure hungry humans to an all-night diner," says Douglas W. Tallamy, entomology and applied ecology, "but the bioluminescence of firefly larvae sends a very different message to would-be predators."

The UD study is believed to offer the first laboratory-based evidence of an insect using bioluminescence--rather than coloration--as an "aposematic display," which warns predators of an unappetizing or hazardous meal. Bright colors, such as the orange and black patterns on a monarch butterfly or the yellow stripes on a wasp, are far more typical examples of aposematic display. But, Tallamy notes, coloration offers no protection in the dark. Baby fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) therefore use light signals to ward off predators, Tallamy's research team concludes.

This new insight into firefly behavior may serve as an educational tool for both adults and children this summer, Tallamy says. "The more people understand about their natural world, the more they are likely to appreciate why it must be preserved for future generations," he explains. "And, children who understand why fireflies are flashing may get hooked on science."

Decoding light signals

Since at least 1952, researchers have known that adult fireflies use light patterns as part of a mating ritual, Tallamy says. Because baby fireflies are not mature enough to reproduce, researchers have speculated that younger specimens might use light cues for survival, rather than reproduction. Without laboratory evidence to support the theory, however, the messages sent by firefly larvae have remained a mystery--until now.

With John D. Pesek, food and resource economics, and graduate student Todd J. Underwood, Tallamy tested the aposematic display theory on ordinary house mice raised in a laboratory. But first, the UD researchers needed to find out whether mice think firefly larvae taste bad.

In previous laboratory studies, vertebrate predators have consistently turned up their noses at lucibufagins, compounds present in adult fireflies. But, Tallamy says, "only anecdotal evidence suggested that larvae are also distasteful." So, mice were offered a choice of either a firefly or a mealworm--a delicacy for rodents. As expected, all mice rejected the bitter fireflies, Tallamy says, even when they were still hungry enough to eat more mealworms.

Next, the UD researchers tested the ability of mice to associate light with a bitter taste. At one end of a Y-shaped maze, they placed a single piece of crispy rice cereal. A second piece of cereal was soaked in a stomach-turning concoction of quinine sulphate and mustard powder before being placed on the other side of the maze, which was rigged with a light-emitting diode. Though mice initially entered the maze "with a bias toward the glowing branch," they quickly learned to steer clear of the bitter-tasting tidbit, UD researchers say. Within eight to 47 runs, all mice had selected the darkened side of the maze at least seven times in a row.

"Our study answers a fundamental question that entomologists have been pondering for some time," Tallamy says. It also suggests an interesting topic for discussion between parents and children, he adds.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Delaware. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Delaware. "Summer Science: Firefly Babies Advertise Their Bitter Taste." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 July 1997. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1997/07/970704073641.htm>.
University Of Delaware. (1997, July 4). Summer Science: Firefly Babies Advertise Their Bitter Taste. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1997/07/970704073641.htm
University Of Delaware. "Summer Science: Firefly Babies Advertise Their Bitter Taste." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1997/07/970704073641.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Boy Attacked by Shark in Florida

Boy Attacked by Shark in Florida

Reuters - US Online Video (July 24, 2014) An 8-year-old boy is bitten in the leg by a shark while vacationing at a Florida beach. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tyrannosaur Pack-Hunting Theory Aided By New Footprints

Tyrannosaur Pack-Hunting Theory Aided By New Footprints

Newsy (July 24, 2014) A new study claims a set of prehistoric T-Rex footprints supports the theory that the giant predators hunted in packs instead of alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

AFP (July 24, 2014) Health and agriculture development are key if African countries are to overcome poverty and grow, US software billionaire Bill Gates said Thursday, as he received an honourary degree in Ethiopia. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins