Do western boxelder bugs sunbathe for sanitation? Inferences from in vitro experiments


Correspondence: Gerhard Gries, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada. E-mail:


When western boxelder bugs, Boisea rubrolineata (Barber) (Hemiptera: Rhopalidae), form aggregations in warm sunlight, they release from their posterior dorsal abdominal gland an odorous blend of monoterpenes with heretofore unknown biological function. In laboratory analyses and experiments, we show that bugs in warm sunlight, but not in shade, exude and spread copious amounts of monoterpenes onto their cuticle. These monoterpenes do not serve as a pheromone, but rather as a means of sanitation. They inhibit germination of conidia of the fungal pathogen Beauveria bassiana (Bals.-Criv.) Vuill. (Hypocreales) as well as halt the growth of germinated spores. This prophylactic defense against pathogens appears adaptive for phytophagous insects, like B. rubrolineata, that are prone to infections by microbes thriving on leaf surfaces and in the insects' overwintering microhabitat.