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Study suggests virus impacts caterpillar’s phototactic response causing them to climb

Posted December 29, 2014

A small team of researchers with Wageningen University in The Netherlands has found evidence that suggests that a type of virus that causes a species of caterpillar to climb higher up a plant, does so by causing a change to the victim’s phototactic response. In their paper published in the journal Biology Letters, the team describes how they studied baculovirus infections in caterpillars and the experiments they conducted in attempting to show that changes in behavior attributed to the viral infection were likely due to changes in how light was perceived.

Beet armyworm

Spodoptera exigua larva feeding on Nicotiana attenuata. Credit: PLoS Biol 2/8/2004: e250. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020250 Read more at:

As the researches note, many types of parasites try to manipulate their hosts into behaving in ways that benefit the parasite, e.g. malaria parasites causing changes in mosquito feeding behavior and the way hair worms cause crickets to engage in suicidal behavior. In this new study, the researchers wanted to better understand how the parasite Spodoptera exiqua, a baculovirus, is able to cause the Beet Armyworm (Spodoptera exigua) larvae to climb up leaves and plants prior to dying.

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