Magazine article Science News

Lacewings Have Their Armor and Eat It Too

Magazine article Science News

Lacewings Have Their Armor and Eat It Too

Article excerpt

Some green lacewing mothers produce an unusual compound that both protects their eggs from marauding ants and serves as their offspring's first meal, researchers say. Someday, the chemical may enable humans to repel ants too. Before depositing their eggs, green lacewings release from their reproductive glands a substance that forms stalks for their eggs to sit on, keeping them out of the way of hungry predators.

One species of green lacewings takes an additional precaution, however. Ceraeochrysa smithi females produce droplets of an irritating fatty liquid that they deposit on the stalks to repel invaders, assert Thomas Eisner of Cornell University and his colleagues. Moreover, when the larvae emerge from the eggs, they imbibe the liquid. This snack may provide them with nutrients or make them less attractive to ants, the team speculates.

Many species of insects protect their eggs with chemicals, but scientists have found no others whose offspring ingest the defensive substance, the team contends in the April 16 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "As an insectan 'mother's milk' that seemingly combines the attributes of 'guns and butter,' the egg-stalk fluid of C. smithi is evidently unusual," they observe.

"It's a surprising and very interesting finding," agrees entomologist Charles S. Henry of the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

The researchers first noticed the droplet-covered stalks in the late 1960s, but they put their discovery on the back burner until better techniques for extracting the oil and examining its ingredients came along, explains Eisner. …

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