Vickers and Crespo conducted the study with University of Utah biology Professor Franz Goller. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health.
Watching Chilled Moths Heat Up
The study involved a moth named Helicoverpa zea, commonly known as the corn ear worm. It belongs to the largest family of moths and butterflies noctuids which have more than 35,000 species worldwide, including the medium-sized moths many of us see in or near our homes.
"It's a significant agricultural pest which attacks many different crops corn, soy, tomato, strawberries," Vickers says. Researchers use them because they are good models to show how odors are processed in the brain.
Virgin males were used in the study because it is standard protocol to use animals that haven't previously mated or been exposed to pheromones.
To start the experiments, all the moths were chilled down to 46 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, cool enough so they stay inactive, and so handling them before the experiments doesn't prompt them to start warming up immediately.
The first experiments were conducted using a small, open roofed, cardboard wind tunnel about 11 inches long, 5.5 inches wide and 5.5 inches tall. A 1.2-inch tall, 1.2-inch diameter cylindrical wire cage, with no top, was placed upright inside one end of the wind tunnel, with an inactive moth at the bottom.
A fan blew a gentle, 1 mph breeze toward the moth, and one of six odors was released near the upwind end of the tube. One was the moth's normal pheromone blend, one was the blend's primary component, and the other four were odors (or in one case, no odor) that scientists believed wouldn't attract the moths (and didn't).
An infrared video camera which me
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