Honeydew is a sugary solution produced by several different types of insects, particularly those that feed by inserting their proboscis into the phloem vessels of a plant. These vessels carry dissolved sugars and other nutrients all over the plant, and the sucking insects use their spike-like mouthparts to access the flow of goodies. Strangely, when an insect taps into the liquid and begins to suck, the high pressure in the phloem vessel causes a big droplet of honeydew to emerge from the insect’s anus. It is a valued food source for other insects, including different species of ants.
Although the chemical composition of honeydew has been studied from the perspective of its nutritional value to ants and other species that feed on it, the nature of the volatile (or smelly) components has not been investigated. It is possible that scents from honeydew secretions are used by insects to communicate with each other, especially around the time of reproduction. A new study, published in Frontiers in Insect Science, has now shown that the honeydew produced by spotted lanternflies gives rise to many airborne organic molecules that are attractive to other members of the species and probably play an important role in the behavior of the insects.
“This research is important because the first step to managing any pest is to understand their biology and behavior,” said Dr. Miriam Cooperband of the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine Division (USDA APHIS PPQ) in the U.S. “As we learn more about the behavior of the spotted lanternfly, we hope to find a vulnerability that we can use to develop pest management tools to reduce its population and spread.”
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