Maternal food provisioning in relation to condition-dependent offspring odours in burrower bugs (Sehirus cinctus)

Mathias Kölliker, John P. Chuckalovcak, Kenneth F. Haynes, Edmund D. Brodie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The sensory modalities used for communication among family members have at least partly evolved within an organism's pre-existing sensory context. Given the well-known general importance of chemical communication in insects, we hypothesized in sub-social insects with parental care that chemical signals emitted by larvae to influence parental care (i.e. solicitation pheromones) would have evolved. To test this hypothesis, we performed an experiment in the burrower bug Sehirus cinctus (Hemiptera: Cydnidae) where nymphs were hand-reared under high- or low-food conditions. These hand-reared clutches were used as a source of volatiles. The volatiles were collected for chemical analysis and delivered to caring mothers to quantify their behavioural response. As predicted, mothers exposed to volatiles from nymphs in poor condition provisioned significantly more food than those exposed to air (controls) or volatiles from high-condition nymphs. Chemical analysis revealed that nymphs emitted a blend of eight compounds of which α-pinene and camphene showed the strongest relationship with food treatment. Exposure to pure synthetic α-pinene and camphene did not affect maternal provisioning, however, suggesting that the functional significance of α-pinene and/or camphene may occur in a blend with other compounds. This study shows a clear effect of condition-dependent offspring odours on maternal food provisioning and identifies, for the first time, candidate compounds for a potential chemical offspring begging signal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1523-1528
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1593
StatePublished - Jun 22 2006


  • Begging
  • Chemical communication
  • Family conflicts
  • Parental care
  • Sehirus cinctus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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