• Brassicaceae;
  • Chrysomelidae;
  • colour;
  • host searching behaviour;
  • isothiocyanate;
  • plant odour;
  • vision

The relevance of visual and olfactory cues for host-plant location is investigated in males and females of the oligophagous mustard leaf beetle Phaedon cochleariae Fabricius (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Different objects are offered in a walking arena and the behaviour of beetles is observed. Beetles orient toward vertically or horizontally striped black and white pattern independent of stripe orientation. The results suggest that contrast facilitates orientation in the field, whereas the pattern itself may be less important for host location in dense vegetation. The response to green and yellow objects is tested to investigate discrimination abilities between young (green) and mature (yellow) leaves. Beetles prefer green over yellow independent of material (cardboard or leaves of Nasturtium officinale R. Br., Brassicaceae). Preference behaviour tested in a dual-choice contact assay coincides with visual preferences, where adults prefer young, more nutritious leaves for feeding and oviposition. Furthermore, females discriminate between visual cues of green leaves and green cardboard, whereas males do not, indicating that females are more sensitive in colour discrimination. Differences in colour wavelength influence the choice of beetle behaviour more strongly than differences in intensity. Both sexes of P. cochleariae prefer volatiles of the host plant N. officinale, whereas only females respond to the main volatile compound 2-phenylethyl isothiocyanate. Given a choice between visual and olfactory cues, males orientate towards the colour cues, whereas females do not show any preferences. In males, visual cues may thus override olfactory cues, whereas, in females, both are equally important, which may reflect different ecological requirements and/or physiological abilities.