Evidence for facultative migratory flight behavior in Helicoverpa armigera (Noctuidae: Lepidoptera) in India

PLoS One. 2021 Jan 22;16(1):e0245665. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0245665. eCollection 2021.


Despite its deleterious impact on farming and agriculture, the physiology and energetics of insect migration is poorly understood due to our inability to track their individual movements in the field. Many insects, e.g. monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus (L.), are facultative migrants. Hence, it is important to establish whether specific insect populations in particular areas migrate. The polyphagous insect, Helicoverpa armigera (Hübner), is especially interesting in this regard due to its impact on a variety of crops. Here, we used a laboratory-based flight mill assay to show that Helicoverpa armigera populations clearly demonstrate facultative migration in South India. Based on various flight parameters, we categorized male and female moths as long, medium or short distance fliers. A significant proportion of moths exhibited long-distance flight behavior covering more than 10 km in a single night, averaging about 8 flight hours constituting 61% flight time in the test period. The maximum and average flight speeds of these long fliers were greater than in the other categories. Flight activity across sexes also varied; male moths exhibited better performance than female moths. Wing morphometric parameters including forewing length, wing loading, and wing aspect ratio were key in influencing long-distance flight. Whereas forewing length positively correlated with flight distance and duration, wing loading was negatively correlated.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • India
  • Male
  • Moths / physiology*

Grants and funding

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.