Ablation of caterpillar labial salivary glands: Technique for determining the role of saliva in insect-plant interactions

Richard O. Musser, Edward Farmer, Michelle Peiffer, Spencer A. Williams, Gary W. Felton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


There has been an ardent interest in herbivore saliva due to its roles in inducing plant defenses and its impact on herbivore fitness. Two techniques are described that inhibit the secretion of labial saliva from the caterpillar, Helicoverpa zea, during feeding. The methods rely on cauterizing the caterpillar's spinneret, the principal secretory structure of the labial glands, or surgically removing the labial salivary gland. Both methods successfully inhibit secretion of saliva and the principal salivary enzyme glucose oxidase. Caterpillars with inhibited saliva production feed at similar rates as the untreated caterpillars, pupate, and emerge as adults. Glucose oxidase has been suggested to increase the caterpillar's survival through the suppression of inducible anti-herbivore defenses in plants. Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) leaves fed on by caterpillars with ablated salivary glands had significantly higher levels of nicotine, an inducible anti-herbivore defense compound of tobacco, than leaves fed upon by caterpillars with intact labial salivary glands. Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) leaves fed upon by caterpillars with suppressed salivary secretions showed greatly reduced evidence of hydrogen peroxide formation compared to leaves fed upon by intact caterpillars. These two methods are useful techniques for determining the role that saliva plays in manipulating plant anti-herbivore defenses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)981-992
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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