Beetles in the genus Sphenophorus Schönherr, or billbugs, potentially utilize both volatile and non-volatile behavior-modifying chemical signals. These insects are widely distributed across North America, often occurring in multi-species assemblages in grasses. However, details about their host- and mate-finding behavior are poorly understood. This study tested the hypothesis that volatile organic compounds from host-plants and conspecifics direct the dispersal behavior of hunting billbug S. venatus Say. Further, we characterized the cuticular hydrocarbon profiles of two widespread pest species, S. venatus and bluegrass billbug S. parvulus Gyllenhaal, to assess the potential role of contact pheromones in mate-recognition. In Y-tube olfactometer bioassays, S. venatus males were attracted to a combination of conspecifics and Cynodon dactylon host-plant material, as well as C. dactylon plant material alone. S. venatus females were attracted to a combination of male conspecifics and host-plants but were also attracted to male conspecifics alone. Field evaluation of a putative male-produced aggregation pheromone, 2-methyl-4-octanol, identified from two congeners, S. levis Vaurie and S. incurrens Gyllenhaal, did not support the hypothesis that S. venatus and S. parvulus were also attracted to this compound. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis of S. venatus and S. parvulus whole-body cuticular extracts indicated a series of hydrocarbons with qualitative and quantitative interspecific variation in addition to intraspecific quantitative variation between males and females. This study provides the first evidence that S. venatus orients toward host- and insect-derived volatile organic compounds and substantiates the presence of species-specific cuticular hydrocarbons that could serve as contact pheromones for sympatric Sphenophorus species.
Journal of Chemical Ecology – Springer Journals
Published: May 17, 2018
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