Plants display differential responses following mechanical damage and insect herbivory. Both caterpillar attack and the application of caterpillar oral secretions (OS) to wounded leaves stimulates volatile emission above mechanical damage alone. Volicitin (N-17-hydroxylinolenoyl-l-glutamine), present in beet armyworm (BAW, Spodoptera exigua) OS, is a powerful elicitor of volatiles in excised maize seedlings (Zea mays cv. Delprim). We consider some of the mechanistic differences between wounding and insect herbivory in maize by examining the activity of volicitin, changes in jasmonic acid (JA) levels, and volatile emission from both intact plant and excised leaf bioassays. Compared to mechanical damage alone, volicitin stimulated increases in both JA levels and sesquiterpene volatiles when applied to intact plants. In a bioassay comparison, excised leaves were more sensitive and produced far greater volatile responses than intact plants following applications of both volicitin and JA. In the excised leaf bioassay, volicitin applications (10-500 pmol) to wounded leaves resulted in dose dependent JA increases and a direct positive relationship between JA and sesquiterpene volatile emission. Interestingly, volicitin-induced JA levels did not differ between intact and excised bioassays, suggesting a possible interaction of JA with other regulatory signals in excised plants. In addition to JA, insect herbivory is known to stimulate the production of ethylene. Significant increases in ethylene were induced only by BAW herbivory and not by either wounding or volicitin treatments. Using intact plant bioassays, ethylene (at 1 micro l l-1 or less) greatly promoted volatile emission induced by volicitin and JA but not mechanical damage alone. For intact plants, wounding, elicitor-induced JA and insect-induced ethylene appear to be important interacting components in the stimulation of insect-induced volatile emission.