Heteropteran insects often protect themselves from predators with noxious or toxic compounds, especially when these insects occur in aggregations. The predators of heteropteran insects change from small insect predators to large avian predators over time. Thus, a chemical that is deterrent to one type of predator at one point in time may not be deterrent to another type of predator at another point in time. Additionally, these predator deterrent compounds may be used for other functions such as alarm signaling to other conspecifics. Defensive secretion compounds from the adult and the nymph giant mesquite bug (Thasus neocalifornicus: Coreidae) were isolated and identified by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and NMR. The predominant compounds isolated from the nymph mesquite bugs during a simulated predator encounter were (E)-2-hexenal and 4-oxo-(E)-2-hexenal. In adults, the major compounds released during a simulated predator encounter were hexyl acetate, hexanal, and hexanol. Results from predator bioassays suggest the nymph compounds are more effective at deterring an insect predator than the adult compounds. By using behavioral bioassays, we determined the role of each individual compound in signaling to other mesquite bugs. The presence of the nymph secretion near a usually compact nymph aggregation caused nymph mesquite bugs to disperse but did not affect adults. Conversely, the presence of the adult secretion caused the usually loose adult aggregation to disperse, but it did not affect nymph aggregation. The compounds that elicited nymph behavioral responses were (E)-2-hexenal and 4-oxo-(E)-2-hexenal, while those that elicited adult behavioral responses were hexyl acetate and hexanal. The differences between the chemical composition of nymph and adult defensive secretions and alarm behavior are possibly due to differences in predator guilds.
- Carbonyl defense
- Defensive chemistry
- Warning coloration
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics