Animals sometimes develop conspicuous projections on or near their heads as, e.g., weaponry, burrowing or digging tools, and probes to search for resources. The frontal projections that insects generally use to locate and assess resources are segmented appendages, including antennae, maxillary palps, and labial palps. There is no evidence to date that arthropods, including insects, use projections other than true segmental appendages to locate food. In this regard, it is noteworthy that some butterfly larvae possess a pair of long antenna-like projections on or near their heads. To date, the function of these projections has not been established. Larvae of pipevine swallowtail butterflies Battus philenor (Papilionidae) have a pair of long frontal fleshy projections that, like insect antennae generally, can be actively moved. In this study, we evaluated the possible function of this pair of long moveable frontal projections. In laboratory assays, both frontal projections and lateral ocelli were shown to increase the frequency with which search larvae found plants. The frontal projections increased finding of host and non-host plants equally, suggesting that frontal projections do not detect host-specific chemical cues. Detailed SEM study showed that putative mechanosensillae are distributed all around the frontal as well as other projections. Taken together, our findings suggest that the frontal projections and associated mechanosensillae act as vertical object detectors to obtain tactile information that, together with visual information from lateral ocelli and presumably chemical information from antennae and mouthparts, help larvae to find host plants. Field observations indicate that host plants are small and scattered in southern Arizona locations. Larvae must therefore find multiple host plants to complete development and face significant challenges in doing so. The frontal projections may thus be an adaptation for finding a scarce resource before starving to death. This is the first evidence that arthropods use projections other than true segmental appendages such as antennae, mouthparts and legs, to locate food resources.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)