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Bugs Change Mating Behavior in Anticipation of Storms

Update Date: Oct 02, 2013 05:01 PM EDT

The weather may predict when insects mate, according to a new study.

Scientists found that insect modify calling and courting mating behavior in response to changes in air pressure.

Researchers explain that insects' ability to predict adverse weather conditions may help them modify their mating behavior during high winds and rain. Researchers said this aids survival by reducing the risk of injury or death.

Lead researcher Ana Cristina Pellegrino of the University of São Paulo and her team looked at the mating behavior changes in the curcurbit beetle, the true armyworm moth, and the potato aphid under falling, stable, and increasing air pressure conditions.

In the study, researchers measured the male beetle's response to female sex pheromones under the different conditions. The findings revealed a significant decrease in pheromone response when air pressure fell compared to stable or increasing pressure. Researchers also found that 63 percent of males started copulating faster in the presence of females during dropping atmospheric pressure. Low atmospheric pressure is associated with high rains and winds. However, all males showed full courtship behavior under stable or rising air pressure conditions.

Researchers also measured the responses of female insects under different atmospheric conditions. They found that female armyworms' calling was reduced during decreasing air pressure, but the potato aphid showed reduced calling during both decreasing and increasing air pressure, two conditions that can occur with high winds.

The study revealed that reduced calling correlated with reduced mating behavior in both cases.

The results presented show that three very different insect species all modify aspects of their sexual behavior in response to changing barometric pressure. However, there is a great deal of inter-specific variability in their responses that can be related to differences in size, flight ability and the diel periodicity of mating," co-researcher José Maurício Bento said in a news release.

The findings are published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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