Sunbathing has been discovered being used by one group of North American insects to fight off germs.
The Western Boxelder bugs (WBB), that are found mostly in B.C. interior regions, were observed showing this behavior; while grouping together in sunlit patches they release monoterpenes, which are “strong-smelling chemical compounds that help protect the bugs by killing germs on their bodies.”
The researchers had previously assumed that the compounds were used in reproduction or defending against predators. Their latest research has shown that the “compounds were emitted when the bugs were in sunshine — in effect, sunbathing — and weren’t used for communication or other purposes.”
“According to the researchers, sunlight appears to activate the biosynthesis of the compounds in the bugs, described as highly gregarious creatures. The chemicals then physically encase fungal spores on the bugs’ body surface and set off a chain of events that ultimately protect them from germ penetration.”
The research was just published in the August issue of the journal Entomologia Experimentalis it Applicata.
“Prophylactic sunbathing defends these bugs against pathogens that they encounter in their shelters,” says SFU biology professor Gerhard Gries, who co-authored the paper with colleague Zamir Punja and former graduate student Joseph Schwarz, now working on his PhD in entomology at Washington State University. Gries holds an NSERC-Industrial Chair in Multimodal Animal Communication Ecology at SFU.
“If they are converting the sun’s solar energy to fuel chemical work, without the aid of microbial symbionts — organisms that live together with a host, often to their mutual benefit — we would consider this a highly remarkable feat in the animal world.”
The researchers said that the phenomenon may very well exist in other insects but that it hasn’t been observed yet.
Source: Simon Fraser University
Image Credits: Simon Fraser University