Electroantennographic and behavioral responses of the sphinx moth Manduca sexta to host plant headspace volatiles

Ann M. Fraser, Wendy L. Mechaber, John G. Hildebrand

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129 Scopus citations


Coupled gas chromatography with electroantennographic detection (GC-EAD) using antennae of adult female Manduca sexta was employed to screen for olfactory stimulants present in headspace collections from four species of larval host plants belonging to two families: Solanaceae - Lycopersicon esculentum (tomato), Capiscum annuum (bell pepper), and Datura wrightii; and Martyniaceae - Proboscidea parviflora. Headspace volatiles were collected from undamaged foliage of potted, living plants. GC-EAD revealed 23 EAD-active compounds, of which 15 were identified by GC-mass spectrometry. Identified compounds included aliphatic, aromatic, and terpenoid compounds bearing a range of functional groups. Nine EAD-active compounds were common to all four host plant species: (Z)-3-hexenyl acetate, nonanal, decanal, phenylacetaldehyde, methyl salicylate, benzyl alcohol, geranyl acetone, (E)-nerolidol, and one unidentified compound. Behavioral responses of female moths to an eight-component synthetic blend of selected tomato headspace volatiles were tested in a laboratory wind tunnel. Females were attracted to the blend. A comparison of responses from antennae of males and females to bell pepper headspace volatiles revealed that males responded to the same suite of volatiles as females, except for (Z)-3-hexenyl benzoate. EAD responses of males also were lower for (Z)- and (E)-nerolidol and one unidentified compound. Electroantennogram EAG dose-response curves for the 15 identified EAD-active volatiles were recorded. At the higher test doses (10-100 μg), female antennae yielded larger EAG responses to terpenoids and to aliphatic and aromatic esters. Male antennae did respond to the higher doses of (Z)-3-hexenyl benzoate, indicating that they can detect this compound. On the basis of ubiquity of the EAD-active volatiles identified to date in host plant headspace collections, we suggest that M. sexta uses a suite of volatiles to locate and identify appropriate host plants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1813-1833
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2003


  • Antenna
  • EAG
  • Electroantennography
  • GC-EAD
  • Gas chromatography
  • Host plant selection
  • Lepidoptera
  • Manduca sexta
  • Olfaction
  • Sphingidae
  • Volatiles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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