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Keywords:

  • Aposematism;
  • cardenolides;
  • chemical defence;
  • Danaus plexippus;
  • Ostrinia nubilalis;
  • prey handling;
  • Tenodera sinensis

1. Monarch caterpillars, Danaus plexippus (Linnaeus), feed on milkweed plants in the genus Asclepias and sequester cardenolides as an anti–predator defence. However, some predators are able to consume this otherwise unpalatable prey.

2. Chinese mantids, Tenodera sinensis (Saussure), were observed consuming monarch caterpillars by ‘gutting’ them (i.e. removing the gut and associated internal organs). They then feed on the body of this herbivore without any apparent ill effects.

3. How adult T. sinensis handle and consume toxic (D. plexippus) and non–toxic [Ostrinia nubilalis (Hübner) and Galleria mellonella (Linnaeus)] caterpillars was explored. The differences in the carbon/nitrogen (C:N) ratio and cardenolide content of monarch tissue consumed or discarded by mantids were analysed.

4. Mantids gutted monarchs while wholly consuming non–toxic species. Monarch gut tissue had a higher C:N ratio than non–gut tissue, confirming the presence of plant material. Although there were more cardenolide peaks in the monarch body compared with gut tissue, the total cardenolide concentration and polarity index did not differ.

5. Although T. sinensis treated toxic prey differently than non–toxic prey, gutting did not decrease the mantid's total cardenolide intake. As other predators consume monarch caterpillars whole, this behaviour may be rooted in species–specific vulnerability to particular cardenolides or simply reflect a preference for high–N tissues.