Stable Isotope Markers Differentiate between Mass-Reared and Wild Lepidoptera in Sterile Insect Technique Programs

Rebecca Hood-Nowotny, Ally Harari, Rakesh K. Seth, Suk Ling Wee, Des E. Conlong, David M. Suckling, Bill Woods, Kaouthar Lebdi-Grissa, Gregory Simmons, James E. Carpenter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this study we identified a number of moth (Lepidoptera) species that are potential targets for the sterile insect technique (SIT), and we assessed the feasibility of using stable isotope signatures as markers to distinguish mass-reared from wild moth species. Large natural differences in the isotopic signatures of commercially available sugars render them novel markers for mass-reared insects. Sugar beet (Beta vulgaris L.; Caryophyllales: Amaranthaceae), a C3 plant, has a stable isotopic signature (a measure of the ratio of the stable isotopes 13C:12C) of around -27‰ relative to Vienna Pee Dee Belemnite (VPDB; the international C isotope standard for the stable isotopes, 13C and 12C), and sugarcane (Saccharum spp.; Poales: Poaceae), a C4 plant, has an isotopic signature of around -11‰. Thus by means of such a distinct isotope ratio in the sugar in the diet, mass-reared insects can be easily distinguished from wild insects with a high degree of certainty. It was shown that the method could be extended using a multiple isotope approach, with 15N or a full suite of C, N, S and O isotopes. Intrinsic isotope marking of mass-reared moths proved to be an accurate means of distinguishing wild from mass-reared populations, based on isotopic differences between the wild host plant species and the diets used in mass-rearing, which where possible, had been manipulated to contain the isotopically divergent sugar type. This intrinsic labeling using stable isotopes could be useful in the assessment of the quality of mass-reared moths, because a stable isotope is a marker that does not affect the insect in any detrimental manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-176
Number of pages11
JournalFlorida Entomologist
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© International Atomic Energy Agency 2016. Published by the Florida Entomological Society. All rights reserved.


  • Elemental analysis-isotope ratio mass-spectrometry (EA-IRMS)
  • Isotopic signature
  • Larval diet
  • Markers
  • Moths
  • Release/recapture
  • Sterile insects
  • Sugar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Stable Isotope Markers Differentiate between Mass-Reared and Wild Lepidoptera in Sterile Insect Technique Programs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this