Martha Weiss of Georgetown University and colleagues found something unexpected with moths and butterflies: they remember what they learned as caterpillars.
The findings challenge the accepted wisdom that the insects – brains and all – are completely rewired during metamorphosis, and may provide clues about neural development.
"Practically everything about the two phases of the organism are so different – morphology, diet, how they move, and what they sense," says Martha Weiss of Georgetown University in Washington, DC, in the US.
"We were curious to see if we could train a caterpillar to do something it could remember as an adult," she says
Weiss and colleagues exposed tobacco hornworm caterpillars, Manduca sexta, to ethyl acetate – a chemical often used in nail polish remover – and a series of mild electric shocks.
Seventy-eight percent of the caterpillars that were shocked directly after exposure avoided the compound in subsequent tests while still in the larval stage.
Previously on Neatorama: World's Weirdest Moths