March 2, 2009

Study: Moths use scent to find a mate

Swedish scientists have discovered that a female moth can discern a male's ancestry, age and possibly reproductive fitness from the scent of his pheromones.

The study by Jean-Marc Lassance and Christer Lofstedt of Lund University in Sweden focused on an analysis of the pheromones used by the European Corn Borer (Ostrinia nubilalis).

The researchers studied the influence of pheromones on mating preferences and carried out an analysis of the composition of the scent and genetic makeup of the animals involved. In addition, they compared the odor bouquet used by males with the scent used by females to attract potential mates.

Our demonstration of pheromone-based female mate choice and identification of a male courtship pheromone in ECB is of particular importance because it may alter our understanding of the role of pheromones in species formation, Lassance said.

The scientists then compared the pheromones of French, Hungarian, American and Slovenian populations and of an Asian sister species. They found the changing compositions allow females to select for males of their own kind -- reinforcing reproductive isolation, a step on the road to the formation of a new species.

The research appears in the open access journal BMC Biology.