Butterflies are believed to use mainly visual cues when searching for food and oviposition sites despite that their olfactory system is morphologically similar to their nocturnal relatives, the moths. The olfactory ability in butterflies has, however, not been thoroughly investigated. Therefore, we performed the first study of odour representation in the primary olfactory centre, the antennal lobes, of butterflies. Host plant range is highly variable within the butterfly family Nymphalidae, with extreme specialists and wide generalists found even among closely related species. Here we measured odour evoked Ca(2+) activity in the antennal lobes of two nymphalid species with diverging host plant preferences, the specialist Aglais urticae and the generalist Polygonia c-album. The butterflies responded with stimulus-specific combinations of activated glomeruli to single plant-related compounds and to extracts of host and non-host plants. In general, responses were similar between the species. However, the specialist A. urticae responded more specifically to its preferred host plant, stinging nettle, than P. c-album. In addition, we found a species-specific difference both in correlation between responses to two common green leaf volatiles and the sensitivity to these compounds. Our results indicate that these butterflies have the ability to detect and to discriminate between different plant-related odorants.
2011. Vol. 6, no 8, e24025- p.