Do food protein and carbohydrate content influence the pattern of feeding and the tendency to explore of forest tent caterpillars?

Research paper by Nadia N Colasurdo, Audrey A Dussutour, Emma E Despland

Indexed on: 11 Aug '07Published on: 11 Aug '07Published in: Journal of Insect Physiology


This study examines whether the ratio of protein to carbohydrate affects the timing of meals and the propensity to explore of forest tent caterpillars (Malacosoma disstria). The behavior of fourth instar caterpillars was observed on three semi-defined artificial diets varying in protein (p)-carbohydrate (c) ratio. These diets were (a) p14:c28, (b) p28:c14, and (c) p35:c7. The probability of initiating feeding at first contact with the food and the duration of the first feeding event did not vary across diets, suggesting not much difference in phagostimulatory power. There was also no difference in the total time spent eating, at rest and in motion between diets. However, the timing and duration of meals varied significantly; more short meals were observed on the carbohydrate-biased diet. The duration of pauses between meals also increased with food protein content. Furthermore, caterpillars on the carbohydrate-biased diet were more likely to leave the trail leading to the known food source and to discover a second food source, suggesting that protein deprivation promotes exploration. These findings shed insight into the physiological responses to protein and carbohydrate ingestion and demonstrate how post-ingestive effects can favor consumption of foods containing protein without invoking an explicit mechanism of independent nutrient regulation, but simply by influencing the pattern of feeding and the propensity to explore.