Archbold Biological Station
Biennial Report 1995-1996

P.O. Box 2057 Lake Placid, Florida 33862 USA
863-465-2571 FAX: 863-699-1927

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Chemical Ecology

Project Director: Thomas Eisner, Cornell University
Research Associates: Scott Smedley and Athula Attygalle, Cornell University
Graduate Students: Carmen Rossini and Andrés Gonzalez, Cornell University
Project Assistant: Maria Eisner, Cornell University

Thomas Eisner (Cornell Univ.) has visited the Station with postdoctoral associates and graduate students, and his close research partner, Maria Eisner, several times during 1995-96. Several projects, all with a chemical-ecological focus, are currently underway.

Atmospheric Formic Acid. It had been calculated that formicine ants contribute a major share of the formic acid in the atmosphere, but data to that effect were nonexistent. Actual measurements have now been made with a formicine ant (Camponotus floridanus) at Archbold of the quantity of vapor that leaks from the formic acid-producing defensive glands of this ant, measurements that are providing a basis for calculating the global acid output of ants.

Toxin Synthesis by a Beetle. A beetle at the Station, Galerita lecontei, was found to produce a defensive spray containing 80 percent formic acid, a highly toxic fluid. The beetle produces the secretion at a prodigious rate, from glands made up of only about 500 secretory cells. How the beetle is able to produce the toxic secretion without poisoning itself, and the rate at which individual gland cells secrete the acid, is being investigated.

The Ornate Moth. The male of this moth (Utetheisa ornatrix), which has been studied for some 30 years by Eisner’s group, when mating, transmits a large sperm package to the female, amounting to about 1/10 of the male’s body mass. Aside from sperm, the package contains a substantial quantity of a bitter alkaloid, which the moth acquires as a caterpillar from its food plant. The alkaloid has a special role. It is transmitted by the female to the eggs (which are thereby protected against predators) and it is used by the female for her own protection (for instance, against spiders). This study is laying the groundwork for other projects dealing with the mating strategies of insects.

Chemical Prospecting. Eisner’s group has continued to search for new natural products—chemicals from nature—from organisms at the Station. In collaboration with chemists at Cornell, the group is looking into substances from plants, insects, and microorganisms, in hopes of finding leads to new medicinals, agrochemicals, and other materials. Some of these studies are being undertaken in collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry.

"Beetlemania." A film by that name, produced in Great Britain, and aired in the U.S. by National Geographic Television, was filmed in part at the Station and dealt with some of Eisner’s work. National Geographic is also currently producing a film for children that features some of Eisner’s research at Archbold, including his work on bombardier beetles (Brachinus spp.), and on the palmetto beetle (Hemisphaerota cyanea).



blkball.gif (842 bytes)Lohrer, F.E . (Editor). 1998. Archbold Biological Station, Biennial Report 1995-1996. Archbold Biological Station, Lake Placid. 62 pp.
© Archbold Biological Station, 1998, October.
Webmaster: Fred Lohrer.