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Fruit fly excrement on food contains pheromones that entice other flies to join the feeding frenzy

Studying pheromones in fly feces could lead to new strategies for fighting crop pests

by Sarah Everts
September 26, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 38

Credit: Anna Schroll
Fruit fly poop on this blueberry contains aggregation and mating pheromones.
Image of fruit fly poop on a blueberry.
Credit: Anna Schroll
Fruit fly poop on this blueberry contains aggregation and mating pheromones.

Fruit flies are known for using pheromones to tell their buddies about new food sources and where to find romance. But the fruit flies aren’t just releasing these chemicals from their pheromone-secreting glands, they’re also depositing the molecular messages in their excrement. The first chemical analysis of Drosophila feces, performed by Bill S. Hansson, Markus Knaden, and colleagues of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, has shown that fruit fly poop left behind on ripe blueberries contains a variety of pheromones, including methyl laurate, methyl myristate, and methyl palmitate, which are involved in signals for aggregating and mating (J. Chem. Ecol. 2016, DOI: 10.1007/s10886-016-0737-4). The presence of sex and feeding pheromones in fly droppings may inspire other flies to lay eggs nearby, so that larvae can dine on predigested food in feces before advancing to the ripe fruit, note the authors. The team hopes that studying the poop chemistry of related flies may lead to strategies for improved crop protection and longevity. Excrement seems to be “an important communication tool between individuals of one species. Surprisingly, it has been neglected in many ecological studies so far,” Knaden notes.


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