Water homeostasis by wild larvae of Manduca sexta

H. Arthur Woods, Elizabeth A. Bernays

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Modulation of faecal water loss is the principal mechanism by which larval Lepidoptera maintain water homeostasis in the laboratory. Is this also true of larvae in nature? We observed 12 fifth-instar larvae of Manduca sexta feeding on Datura wrightii in the Sonoran Desert, U.S.A. The two main sources of water stress were: evaporative water loss across the cuticle, which appeared to be promoted by increasing body temperatures and decreasing relative humidities during daytime observation periods; and attacks by tachinid flies, which prompted caterpillars to defaecate large quantities of water and to regurgitate digestive fluid onto themselves. In both cases, caterpillars responded by producing drier faecal pellets. A subset of caterpillars consumed water-rich flower buds of D. wrightii, which led to the production of comparatively wet faecal pellets. These data demonstrate that larval water balance in nature is affected by a variety of biotic and abiotic factors and that larvae respond to these perturbations by modulating the loss of water in the faeces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-87
Number of pages6
JournalPhysiological Entomology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2000


  • Caterpillar
  • Datura wrightii
  • Defaecation
  • Faecal water loss
  • Insect-predator interaction
  • Manduca sexta
  • Parasitic fly
  • Parasitoid
  • Water budget


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