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Coevolution of Danaid butterflies with their host plants


MALE butterflies of the nymphalid subfamily Danainae possess pheromone disseminating organs (hairpencils) the secretions of which function as female flight arrestants or aphrodisiacs1,2 and in some case as female attractants1. The hairpencil secretions of a number of Danaid species contain dihydropyrrolizine derivatives3–8 which are obtained from pyrrolizidine alkaloid plants by adult feeding6,7. A dihydropyrrolizine ketone isolated8 from the hairpencils of Danaus gilippus berenice Cramer has been shown to be the flight arrestant or aphrodisiac pheromone in this species2,9 and we believe that the related dihydropyrrolizines found on the hairpencils of other species may perform a similar function. We propose here one possible explanation for the unusual dependence of male Danaid butterflies on pyrrolizidine alkaloid plants.

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EDGAR, J., CULVENOR, C. & PLISKE, T. Coevolution of Danaid butterflies with their host plants. Nature 250, 646–648 (1974).

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