Chemical Ecology of Yucca Moth Mating Systems

Holly Redmond, Kevin Wanner, Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology Department, Montana State University, Culbertson Hall, 100, Bozeman, MT 59717

The yucca moth, Tegeticula yuccasella (Lepidoptera: Prodoxinae), is an obligate pollinator of the soapweed plant (Yucca glauca), a mutualistic pollination system unique to North America. Female moths collect and pollinate soapweed flowers using specialized tentacles on their head before laying their eggs within the ovule. After hatching, the larvae feed on the developing fruit but do not consume it all, completing the mutualistic interaction. Yucca moths mate inside the flowers, little else is known about their reproductive behavior. The goal of this study was to determine if yucca moths, an archaic branch of Lepidoptera, use the sex pheromones common in modern moth species. Female moths release species-specific blends of volatile fatty acid type chemicals from a gland that archaic moth species lack. Male moths only fly towards the blend produced by conspecific females, which they detect with high sensitivity and specificity using their antennae. 

Prior research identified (Z)-11-hexadecenol (Z11-16:OH), a typical moth pheromone structure, from female T. yuccasella abdomens. In 2018, traps baited with Z11-16:OH and four similar odors were compared to blank control lures for attraction to T. yuccasella. Across all lure types, more males were caught compared to females (N(Male Total)=228, N(Female Total)=102). Statistical analysis by ANOVA indicated no impact of lure type on female trap catches (F(5,55)=1.16,  p-value=0.34). Lure type was a significant factor in trap catches of male moths, based on an ANOVA F-test (F(5,55)=2.31, p-value=0.056). Blank lures caught an average of 2.6 male moths per trap while lures formulated with (Z)-11-tetradecenol (Z11-14:OH) caught an average of 5.3 males. Our results support that yucca moths, members of the archaic Lepidoptera species, do use sex pheromones similar to those known from modern species. 

Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Holly Redmond

Institution: Montana State University

Type: Poster

Subject: Ecology

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Poster 5
Date/Time: Tue 12:30pm-1:30pm
Session Number: 4093