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Unattractive moths increase their chances of mating by being close to attractive ones

Posted December 24, 2017

Rude people often say that pretty girls should hang out with ugly ones just to make their beauty even more obvious. However, things are different in the world of moths. Scientists say that unattractive females can benefit from releasing their pheromones close to the most attractive ones. Researchers from the University of Amsterdam and North Carolina State University explained why this works.

Heliothis virescens are best known in their worm shape and not all their genes are equally attractive. Image credit: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University via Wikimedia(CC BY 3.0 us)

Attractiveness is mostly genetic. Essentially this should mean that everyone by now should be attractive, because unattractive individuals would not be able to find a suitable mate. However, this is far from truth. In the world of insects attractiveness is mostly coded in scent. This means that females have to release pheromones to attract males. Males can sense this smell from hundreds of meters away and fly to the most attractive one. This attractive scent is what the entire survival of the species relies on. However, success of the female moth from species Heliothis virescens depends on surrounding individual as well.

Scientists conducted some experiments in the laboratory and in the field. At first they determined that the attractive scent of the pheromones depends on genetics. Then they found that attractive females have to be in proximity of other attractive ones to increase their chances of success in mating. Furthermore, unattractive females have better chances if they are close to attractive females. In fact, attractive female moth individuals on their own have equal chances to unattractive females in proximity of attractive ones. Scientists say that this phenomenon is solely due to males making mistakes.

Male moths fly towards the cloud of the most attractive scent and then sort of get lost and sometimes land close to unattractive individuals. In such way unattractive females have pretty good chances of mating. However, probably the most interesting finding of this study was that this relation was beneficial for attractive moths as well. Scientists found that they mated sooner than attractive females on their own or with another attractive female nearby. Michiel van Wijk, first author of the study, said: “These findings show the importance of the social environment. Unattractive females don’t stand a chance on their own, but their odds are much better in the proximity of an attractive female. And attractive females become more attractive when there are unattractive females close by”.

And so it looks like sticking together is beneficial for everyone. Genetically ugly individuals find a way to survive and that is also an interesting path of evolution.


Source: University of Amsterdam

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