Sex-dependent variation in the floral preferences of the hawkmoth Manduca sexta

Ruben Alarcón, Jeffrey A. Riffell, Goggy Davidowitz, John G. Hildebrand, Judith L. Bronstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Studies of plant-pollinator interactions have often documented species differences in preferences for floral advertisements and rewards. However, the contribution of intraspecific variation in behaviours, especially between sexes, remains less understood. We explored resource preference and resource use by male and female Manduca sexta hawkmoths, relative to two important nectar resources in southern Arizona, U.S.A. Manduca sexta is the major pollinator of one of these species (Datura wrightii, Solanaceae). Because females must also seek out D. wrightii as an oviposition resource, females were predicted to feed upon it more than would males, which should be free to choose the best nectar resource. Using naïve laboratory-reared moths in flight arena experiments, we found that both sexes preferred Datura wrightii over Agave palmeri (Agavaceae). Exposure to only one species and an odourless paper control, however, revealed sex-specific differences in foraging behaviour, with females feeding longer from A. palmeri and males feeding longer from D. wrightii, leading us to reject our hypothesis. Differences in feeding preferences directly translated into differences in energy intake. Females gained significantly more energy than did males by feeding from A. palmeri. We also examined whether behavioural preferences of moths in the laboratory translated into foraging behaviour in the field. Pollen load analysis of moths caught in 2004 showed that females carried significantly more A. palmeri pollen than did males, whereas males carried more D. wrightii pollen than did females. Whereas most studies examine pollination associations at the species level, our results highlight the potential importance of between-sex variation in floral visits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-296
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2010


  • Agave palmeri
  • Datura wrightii
  • Hawkmoth foraging behaviour
  • Manduca sexta
  • Pollen load analysis
  • Pollination
  • Sex-specific behaviour

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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