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Jail baits: how and why nymphs mimic adult females of the German cockroach,Blattella germanica

Animal Behaviour
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.06.035
  • Blattella Germanica
  • German Cockroach
  • Nuptial Gift
  • Nymph
  • Sex Pheromone
  • Sexual Mimicry


The male German cockroach performs a characteristic courtship behaviour upon contacting a sexually receptive female: he turns away from the female and raises his wings, thereby exposing tergal glands whose reservoirs contain phagostimulatory substances. The female then mounts the male and feeds upon these nuptial secretions; this behaviour places her in the appropriate precopulatory position. The contact sex pheromone on the cuticular surface of the female, responsible for eliciting courtship behaviour in males, consists of a blend of six components that share a common biosynthetic pathway. An excised female antenna can elicit the full courtship display in males. We found that antennae taken from either male or female nymphs of various ages also could elicit the full courtship response in adult males. We extracted lipids from the cuticular surface of nymphs and, guided by behavioural assays, we fractionated the extracts using various chromatography procedures, including flash (column) chromatography, high-performance liquid chromatography and gas chromatography. Mass spectrometry analysis of behaviourally active fractions revealed two classes of courtship-eliciting compounds: all nymphs possessed a novel, still unidentified compound that elicited courtship in adult males. In addition, in last-instar females, we isolated four of the six adult female-specific contact sex pheromone components, consistent with differentiation of the sexes at this stage, and the onset of sexual maturation of the pheromone biosynthetic machinery. Our results support the interpretation that nymphs engage in sexual mimicry to gain access to male-produced nuptial tergal secretions that are exposed and can be secured only during courtship.

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