Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Can Moths Or Butterflies Remember What They Learned As Caterpillars?

Date:
March 8, 2008
Source:
Public Library of Science
Summary:
Butterflies and moths are well known for their striking metamorphosis from crawling caterpillars to winged adults. This radical change makes it seem unlikely that learned associations or memories formed at the larval or caterpillar stage could be accessible to the adult moth or butterfly. However, scientists have recently discovered that a moth can indeed remember what it learned as a caterpillar.

Butterflies and moths are well known for their striking metamorphosis from crawling caterpillars to winged adults. In light of this radical change, not just in body form, but also in lifestyle, diet and dependence on particular sensory cues, it would seem unlikely that learned associations or memories formed at the larval or caterpillar stage could be accessible to the adult moth or butterfly. But it certainly seems to be.
Credit: iStockphoto/Cathy Keifer

Butterflies and moths are well known for their striking metamorphosis from crawling caterpillars to winged adults. In light of this radical change, not just in body form, but also in lifestyle, diet and dependence on particular sensory cues, it would seem unlikely that learned associations or memories formed at the larval or caterpillar stage could be accessible to the adult moth or butterfly. However, scientists at Georgetown University recently discovered that a moth can indeed remember what it learned as a caterpillar.

The Georgetown researchers found that tobacco hornworm caterpillars could be trained to avoid particular odors delivered in association with a mild shock. When adult moths emerged from the pupae of trained caterpillars, they also avoided the odors, showing that they retained their larval memory. The Georgetown University study is the first to demonstrate conclusively that associative memory can survive metamorphosis in Lepidoptera--the order of insects that includes moths and butterflies--and provokes new questions about the organization and persistence of the central nervous system during metamorphosis.

"The intriguing idea that a caterpillar's experiences can persist in the adult butterfly or moth captures the imagination, as it challenges a broadly-held view of metamorphosis -- that the larva essentially turns to soup and its components are entirely rebuilt as a butterfly," says senior author Martha Weiss, an associate professor of Biology at Georgetown University.

"Scientists have been interested in whether memory can survive metamorphosis for over a hundred years," says first author Doug Blackiston, who completed the interdisciplinary research while earning a PhD in Biology from Georgetown University in the labs of developmental biologist Elena Casey and behavioral ecologist Martha Weiss. The brain and nervous system of caterpillars is dramatically reorganized during the pupal stage and it has not been clear whether memory could survive such drastic changes.

The findings of the Georgetown researchers suggest the retention of memory is dependent on the maturity of the developing caterpillars' brains. Caterpillars younger than three weeks of age learned to avoid an odor, but could not recall the information as adults, whereas older caterpillars, conditioned in the final larval stage before pupation, learned to avoid the odor and recalled the information as adults. In addition, the results have both ecological and evolutionary implications, as retention of memory through metamorphosis could allow a female butterfly or other insect to lay her eggs on the type of host plant that she herself had fed on as a larva, a behavior that could shape habitat selection and eventually lead to development of a new species.

While most research on learning and memory in insects has centered on social insects, such as honeybees or ants, Weiss' lab is particularly interested in solitary insects, such as butterflies, praying mantids, and mud-dauber wasps. Weiss and her colleagues will continue to study how these self-sufficient, multitasking insects use learning and memory skills to adapt to their environments.

This study was farther afield from the neural cell specification research that is ongoing in Casey's lab. Casey, associate professor of Biology at Georgetown, focuses on identifying the signals that are required to direct a cell to develop into a neuron and determining how the complex human central nervous system evolved.

Blackiston, now conducting postdoctoral work at the Forsyth Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology and the Department of Developmental Biology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, is currently examining learning and memory in aquatic vertebrates.

Journal reference: Blackiston DJ, Silva Casey E, Weiss MR (2008) Retention of Memory through Metamorphosis: Can a Moth Remember What It Learned As a Caterpillar? PLoS One 3(3): e1736. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001736 http://www.plosone.org/doi/pone.0001736


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Public Library of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Public Library of Science. "Can Moths Or Butterflies Remember What They Learned As Caterpillars?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 March 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080304200858.htm>.
Public Library of Science. (2008, March 8). Can Moths Or Butterflies Remember What They Learned As Caterpillars?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080304200858.htm
Public Library of Science. "Can Moths Or Butterflies Remember What They Learned As Caterpillars?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080304200858.htm (accessed September 30, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

California University Designs Sustainable Winery

California University Designs Sustainable Winery

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 27, 2014) Amid California's worst drought in decades, scientists at UC Davis design a sustainable winery that includes a water recycling system. Vanessa Johnston reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Argentina Worries Over Decline of Soybean Prices

Argentina Worries Over Decline of Soybean Prices

AFP (Sep. 27, 2014) The drop in price of soy on the international market is a cause for concern in Argentina, as soybean exports are a major source of income for Latin America's third largest economy. Duration: 01:10 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mama Bear, Cubs Hang out in California Backyard

Mama Bear, Cubs Hang out in California Backyard

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 27, 2014) A mama bear and her two cubs climb trees, wrestle and take naps in the backyard of a Monrovia, California home. Vanessa Johnston reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Crazy' Climate Forces Colombian Farmers to Adapt

'Crazy' Climate Forces Colombian Farmers to Adapt

AFP (Sep. 26, 2014) Once upon a time, farming was a blissfully low-tech business on Colombia's northern plains. Duration: 02:05 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:

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