Lab Core

Tobacco Hornworms

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Research Based Labs

Ideas For Other Ecological and Physiological Experiments Using M. sexta


Aside from the effects of elevated CO2 on herbivory, there are many different types of experiments which students can perform using M. sexta. Because the hornworms are so easy to grow, and go from egg to pupa in just a few weeks, students can ask questions about feeding and growth on different substances.

Students can compare the growth of hornworms on leaves from different species of tobacco, leaves from tomato plants (members of the same family as tobacco), and leaves from unrelated plant species. Using the same technique for measuring leaf area as in the CO2 experiment, they can compare feeding rates over a shorter time span.

Hawkmoths are also easy to use in experiments; because they are nocturnal, students can manipulate plants and other items in flight cages during the day and return the following day to collect data. The moths will not fly around during the day unless quite provoked.

As a companion set of experiments to the feeding experiments, students can look at oviposition choice by moths; are female moths more likely to lay eggs on tobacco than on other species of plants? How does oviposition choice relate to larval feeding?

Moths can also be used for ecological experiments looking at choice of resting background. If presented with different backgrounds in a flight cage to rest on, will moths choose backgrounds which camoflage them? Does light level at night affect resting choice?


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March 1999