Insect Deploys Anti-Antiaphrodisiac

Female plant bugs produce a compound to counter males’ attempts to render the females unattractive to other mates.

Shawna Williams
Shawna Williams

Shawna joined The Scientist in 2017 and is now a senior editor and news director. She holds a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Colorado College and a graduate certificate and science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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Oct 1, 2017

HOW YOU DOIN’?: A male L. hesperus (right) uses its antennae to determine a female’s sexual maturity and mating status.COLIN BRENT

THE PAPER
C.S. Brent et al., “An insect anti-antiaphrodisiac,” eLife, 6:e24063, 2017.

JEALOUS SUITORS
Many male insects deploy “mate-guarding” chemicals that render females unattractive to other males for some time after copulation. The technique gives males’ sperm a competitive edge, but can disadvantage females if the effect lasts too long.

LOVE POTION
In a first, Colin Brent of the US Department of Agriculture’s Arid Land Agricultural Research Center and colleagues stumbled on a female means of fighting back. In the western tarnished plant bug (Lygus hesperus), males’ seminal fluid contains antiaphrodisiac pheromones. Over several days or weeks, females convert one of those compounds to geranylgeraniol, which counteracts the antiaphrodisiacs to reveal that she may, in fact, be ready to mate again. “[They’re] basically competing signals,”...

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