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Host plant direct defence against eggs of its specialist herbivore, Heliothis subflexa


Jennifer Petzold-Maxwell, Iòwa State University, 13 Insectary, Ames, IA 50011, U.S.A. E-mail:


1. The insect Heliothis subflexa Guenée is a specialist on plants in the genus Physalis. In the present study, the physical response of Physalis leaves to egg deposition by H. subflexa is described.

2. It was observed that the leaves of Physalis plants respond to the eggs of H. subflexa, while co-occurring non-host plants do not. Leaves of Physalis angulata L. and Physalis pubescens L. respond to H. subflexa eggs by the formation of (i) necrotic tissue, (ii) undifferentiated cells that form a bump (neoplasm) under the eggs of this herbivore, or (iii) both types of responses.

3. Greenhouse experiments showed that 64% of eggs laid on P. angulata elicited a response, and that a response to an egg decreased the probability of hatching. Further experiments in the field with P. angulata showed that the mean response to eggs by leaves was 31%, and that this response increased as temperature increased. Field experiments also confirmed that a plant response to an egg decreased the probability of hatching and increased the probability of removal from the plant by physical dislodgement or predation.

4. Eggs that elicited a response had a 25% lower probability of hatching and a 28% lower probability of remaining on the plant, resulting in an average fitness cost of 19.3% for H. subflexa. This is the first study to show an induced direct physical defence of a plant against eggs of a noctuid moth.