Weather Forecasting by Insects: Modified Sexual Behaviour in Response to Atmospheric Pressure Changes

Ana Cristina Pellegrino, Maria Fernanda Gomes Villalba Peñaflor, Cristiane Nardi, Wayne Bezner-Kerr, Christopher G. Guglielmo, José Maurício Simões Bento, Jeremy N. McNeil
  • PLoS ONE, October 2013, Public Library of Science (PLoS)
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075004

Weather Forecasting by Insects

What is it about?

Prevailing abiotic conditions may positively or negatively impact insects at both the individual and population levels. For example while moderate rainfall and wind velocity may provide conditions that favour development, as well as movement within and between habitats, high winds and heavy rains can significantly decrease life expectancy. There is some evidence that insects adjust their behaviours associated with flight, mating and foraging in response to changes in barometric pressure. We studied changes in different mating behaviours of three taxonomically unrelated insects, the curcurbit beetle, Diabrotica speciosa (Coleoptera), the true armyworm moth, Pseudaletia unipuncta (Lepidoptera) and the potato aphid, Macrosiphum euphorbiae (Hemiptera), when subjected to natural or experimentally manipulated changes in atmospheric pressure. In response to decreasing barometric pressure, male beetles exhibited decreased locomotory activity in a Y-tube olfactometer with female pheromone extracts. However, when placed in close proximity to females, they exhibited reduced courtship sequences and the precopulatory period. Under the same situations, females of the true armyworm and the potato aphid exhibited significantly reduced calling behaviour. Neither the movement of male beetles nor the calling of armyworm females differed between stable and increasing atmospheric pressure conditions. However, in the case of the armyworm there was a significant decrease in the incidence of mating under rising atmospheric conditions, suggesting an effect on male behaviour. When atmospheric pressure rose, very few M. euphorbiae oviparae called. This was similar to the situation observed under decreasing conditions, and consequently very little mating was observed in this species except under stable conditions. All species exhibited behavioural modifications, but there were interspecific differences related to size-related flight ability and the diel periodicity of mating activity. We postulate that the observed behavioral modifications, especially under decreasing barometric pressure would reduce the probability of injury or death under adverse weather conditions.

The following have contributed to this page: Professor José Mauricio Simões Bento