Moths and Butterflies Remember What It Was Like As Caterpillars

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

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Ha, you know what, I work at Carleton University (as a biologist and graduate student) in a lab that works with caterpillars and butterflies... we just had a huge discussion on this research this week, and now I see it here on neatorama! Interestingly, the memories are only preserved if they are encoded at a certain age (5th instar). Memories encoded too early will not persist after metamorphosis. It's interesting that the memories can persist because so much of the caterpillar's body (including the brain and nervous system) is drastically reorganized as it turns into a butterfly or moth... Anyway, it's pretty neat...
Yay for neatorama!!

Ombor Mitra
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