A correlation between macronutrient balancing and insect host-plant range: evidence from the specialist caterpillar Spodoptera exempta (Walker)

J Insect Physiol. 2003 Dec;49(12):1161-71. doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2003.08.013.


In an earlier study, we showed that the ingestive responses of the generalist caterpillar Spodoptera littoralis to foods imbalanced in their protein:carbohydrate content is similar to generalist locusts, but differs from that of specialist-feeding locusts. Here we further pursued the comparison by repeating the experiments using a closely related specialist caterpillar, Spodoptera exempta. First, caterpillars were allowed to self-compose a diet of preferred protein:carbohydrate balance by mixing between nutritionally complementary foods. Then, they were confined to one of five imbalanced foods, in which we measured the trade-off between over- and under-ingesting the two nutrients. On complementary foods, the caterpillars actively regulated their protein and carbohydrate intake. In the no-choice experiment, those fed excess-protein foods ingested small surpluses of protein compared with generalist feeders, thus showing a pattern of nutrient balancing similar to that observed in specialist locusts. Utilisation data indicated that ingested excesses and deficits were to some extent offset by differential utilisation. Evidence also showed that post-ingestive responses of the specialist S. exempta were less flexible than those observed in the generalist S. littoralis, a pattern which is again in accordance with comparisons of acridids differing in their host-plant range.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Composition
  • Body Weight
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Food Preferences / physiology
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Lipids / analysis
  • Nitrogen / analysis
  • Plants / parasitology*
  • Pupa / metabolism
  • Species Specificity
  • Spodoptera / metabolism
  • Spodoptera / physiology*
  • Statistics as Topic / methods


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Lipids
  • Nitrogen