Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Australian field crickets can produce a special odour to lord it over their rivals in order to attract a mate, according to new research at The University of Western Australia.

The authors of a recently published paper show that, in the same way as male birds may have flamboyant plumage, insects have a system to signal status - but it is composed of chemicals excreted through their hard skins, or cuticles.

In their paper published this month in Proceedings of the Royal Society B , Dr Melissa Thomas and Professor Leigh Simmons found that dominant male crickets effectively barred subordinate males from performing courtship songs. However, the silenced males compensated by producing a scent to increase their attractiveness to females.

For the first time, the researchers found that the scent of the cricket after a social challenge is composed of hydrocarbons whose composition undergoes short-term changes depending on the insect's success or failure in the confrontations male crickets have with each other.

"Subordinate males may adopt alternative tactics of silently searching for females, relying more heavily on olfactory signal to induce them to mate," the authors wrote.

More research is needed to discover whether the production of attractive scent is genetic or the result of social experience, they said.

Media references

Professor Leigh Simmons (Director, UWA Centre for  (+61 8)  6488 2221
Evolutionary Biology)
Dr Melissa Thomas (UWA Centre for Evolutionary Biology)  (+61 8)  6488 2239
Janine MacDonald (UWA Public Affairs)  (+61 8)  6488 5563  /  (+61 4) 32 637 716


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