Fitness cost of pheromone production in signaling female moths

Ally R. Harari, Tirtza Zahavi, Denis Thiéry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A secondary sexual character may act as an honest signal of the quality of the individual if the trait bears a cost and if its expression is phenotypically condition dependent. The cost of increasing the trait should be tolerable for individuals in good condition but not for those in a poor condition. The trait thus provides an honest signal of quality that enables the receiver to choose higher quality mates. Evidence for sex pheromones, which play a major role in shaping sexual evolution, inflicting a signaling cost is scarce. Here, we demonstrate that the amount of the major component of the pheromone in glands of Lobesia botrana (Lepidoptera) females at signaling time was significantly greater in large than in small females, that male moths preferred larger females as mates when responding to volatile signals, and small virgin females, but not large ones, exposed to conspecific pheromone, produced, when mated, significantly fewer eggs than nonexposed females. The latter indicates a condition-dependent cost of signaling. These results are in accordance with the predictions of condition-dependent honest signals. We therefore suggest that female signaling for males using sex pheromones bears a cost and thus calling may serve as honest advertisement for female quality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1572-1582
Number of pages11
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavior
  • Fitness
  • Selection-sexual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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