Host-plant choice and larval growth in the cinnabar moth: do pyrrolizidine alkaloids play a role?



Witte et al. (1992) described two distinct chemotypes of Senecio jacobaea L. Asteraceae, a chemotype with jacobine as one of the major pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) and a chemotype with erucifoline as one of the major PAs. We hypothesized that the presence of erucifoline might be the factor responsible for the lack of success of the cinnabar moth on Senecio erucifolius L. Asteraceae and the S. jacobaea erucifoline chemotype. We performed a survey of the distribution of the two chemotypes in the Netherlands and compared this with the distribution map of Tyria jacobaeae L. Lepidoptera, Arctiidae. The distribution of the two chemotypes in the Netherlands is poorly correlated with the distribution of the cinnabar moth. The jacobine chemotype occurs along the coast and the erucifoline chemotype predominantly inward.

An oviposition experiment showed that the cinnabar moth did not discriminate between the two chemotypes of S. jacobaea and S. erucifolius. Larval performance did not differ between the two chemotypes and species. Although the distribution of S. jacobaea jacobine chemotype is loosely associated with the abundance of the cinnabar moth the oviposition and growth experiments indicate that other factors than the presence of erucifoline play a role in this association.

The absence of recordings of S. erucifolius as a foodplant for the cinnabar moth might be explained by the phenology of the foodplant. Ovipositing females of the univoltine cinnabar moth prefer flowering plants for oviposition. S. erucifolius starts flowering about 1–2 month later than S. jacobaea just after the peak density of moths.