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ADULTE  de  PAYSANDISIA ARCHON , avec ailes ouvertes. © DRESCHER Jean

The seductive dance of the palm moth Paysandisia archon

Researchers from INRA, CIRAD and the CNRS made an unprecedented discovery about a palm-eating moth: the presence of a sexual pheromone secreted by the male from its leg. The findings recast scientists’ understanding of Paysandisia archon and offer promising prospects for the integrated management of this pest. The results were published in the 25 March 2013 edition of the journal Chemoecology.

Updated on 06/22/2017
Published on 03/26/2013

Communication is vital for survival and reproduction in insects, which use their senses to perceive their environment and other insects. While they are able to communicate through sound and visual signals, chemical communication is crucial. During reproduction, adult males release chemical substances called pheromones to attract a mate from the same species. Researchers at INRA, CIRAD and the CNRS studied chemical communication in Paysandisia archon, a day-flying moth known for the damage it causes to palms.

Palm-eating moth Paysandia archon,. © inra, Inra
Palm-eating moth Paysandia archon, © inra, Inra
A pheromone in the leg…

The team studied P. archon’s three pairs of legs, which are articulated by a femur, tibia and tarsus. They first observed that during courtship, the male moth rubs its mid-leg against the surface it lands on. This attracts a female, who lands close to the male. The scientists noticed that the first segment of the tarsus on the mid-leg of the male had a brush-like structure above the claw. This organ, or androconium, is characteristic of the moths of this family, Castniidae, but a link had not been previously established between this morphological trait and pheromone emission.

Researchers then analysed samples extracted from the entire leg and from the surface which the insect had rubbed. They identified a compound in the legs with a chemical structure not seen before in a male pheromone and which is similar to those emitted by female moth species related to the palm moth.

… to lead on the female

The research team revealed that the pheromones emitted by the androconia of male palm moths were clearly detected by the females’ antennae (where an insect’s sense of smell is located). Reception of an olfactory signal triggers a chain reaction, notably of electrical processes, the amplitude of which are correlated to the sensitivity of the insect to the detected odour.
This work sheds new light on the chemical ecology of the moth and its reproductive biology. As a general rule, in moths, it is the female that attracts the male by emitting a pheromone. Even more importantly, these results offer new prospects for integrated management of P. archon, based on sexual trapping techniques, for example.

Quick facts: the palm moth
The palm moth (Paysandisia archon) was introduced into Europe accidentally in the 1990s through imports of infested palms from South America and spread through Italy, France and Spain in the 2000s. It is now a problem throughout the Mediterranean, where it attacks endemic and ornamental palms, and in North Africa, where it damages date palms, a major food resource.
Conversely, in its natural habitat, P. archon population densities are very low. It is considered an uncommon species and little is known about its biological and ecological characteristics.

Brigitte Frérot, Roxane Delle-Vedove, Laurence Beaudoin-Ollivier, Pierre Zagatti, Paul Henri Ducrot, Claude Grison, Martine Hossaert, Eddy Petit. 2013. Fragrant legs in Paysandisia archon males (Lepidoptera, Castniidae). Chemoecology. DOI : 10.1007/s00049-013-0128-z.

Scientific contact(s):

  • Brigitte Frérot (33 (0)1 30 83 31 44) Joint Research Unit for Insect Physiology: signalling and communication, INRA - Université Pierre et Marie Curie
Press Relations:
INRA News Office (33 (0)1 42 75 91 86)
Associated Division(s):
Plant Health and Environment
Associated Centre(s):



Watch: during courtship, the male palm moth rubs its mid-legs against a palm leaf to release a sexual pheromone. This behaviour attracts the female, who lands close to the male.