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.

Related Articles


"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 November 20, 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 November 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Pygmy Marmoset Getting a Toothbrush Massage Is the Cutest

Pygmy Marmoset Getting a Toothbrush Massage Is the Cutest

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) This rescued pygmy marmoset named Ninita is obsessed with her toothbrush. It's cuteness overload, and Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the amazing video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Are Chocolate Makers So Worried?

Why Are Chocolate Makers So Worried?

Reuters - Business Video Online (Nov. 19, 2014) Two big chocolate producers are warning the popular treat could run out by 2020 because people are eating it faster than farmers can grow cocoa. Ciara Lee reports Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tiny Hamster Eating Thanksgiving Meal Breaks the Internet

Tiny Hamster Eating Thanksgiving Meal Breaks the Internet

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) A tiny hamster and a bunny and rat enjoy a tiny Thanksgiving meal where they stuff themselves to the brim. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the cute video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Giant Panda at Toronto Zoo Loves Somersaulting in the Snow

Giant Panda at Toronto Zoo Loves Somersaulting in the Snow

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) A giant panda at the Toronto Zoo named Da Mao is celebrating the northeast snowfall by playing and tumbling in the snow in his outdoor enclosure. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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