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Disarming the "Evil Woman": Petiole Constriction by a Sphingid Larva Circumvents Mechanical Defenses of Its Host Plant, Cnidoscolus urens (Euphorbiaceae)

Patricia M. Dillon, Stuart Lowrie and Doyle McKey
Biotropica
Vol. 15, No. 2 (Jun., 1983), pp. 112-116
DOI: 10.2307/2387953
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2387953
Page Count: 5
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Disarming the "Evil Woman": Petiole Constriction by a Sphingid Larva Circumvents Mechanical Defenses of Its Host Plant, Cnidoscolus urens (Euphorbiaceae)
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Abstract

In Costa Rica, the "mala mujer" (or "evil woman") (Cnidoscolus urens (L.) Arthur ssp. urens. Euphorbiaceae), is protected from herbivores by urticating hairs and sticky latex. Erinnyis ello L. larvae (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae) exploit C. urens as a food source using an unusual and previously undescribed behavior. Before attempting to feed on a leaf, a larva grazes the hairs from the petiole, then constricts the petiole, effectively stopping latex flow into the leaf. The larva thus avoids the deleterious effects of copious latex flow normally resulting from a break in the plant's epidermis. The process of latex flow prevention appears to be mechanical, as shown by laboratory and field experiments.

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