A beetle sits on the stalk of a sunflower in the Carling Heights Garden in London, ON.
Credits: CRAIG GLOVER/The London Free Press/QMI AGENCY
Western Boxelder bugs , found largely in BC interior regions, are known to group together in sunlit patches and while there, release strong-smelling chemical compounds that help protect the bugs by killing germs on their bodies, the group said in a statement Friday.
Researchers previously thought the compounds had a role in reproduction or defending the bugs against predators. But their latest study found that the compounds were emitted when the bugs were in sunshine – in effect, sunbathing – and weren’t used for communication or other purposes.
According to the researchers, sunlight appears to activate the biosynthesis of the compounds in the bugs, described as highly gregarious creatures. The chemicals then physically encase fungal spores on the bugs’ body surface and set off a chain of events that ultimately protect them from germ penetration.
Their findings are published in the August issue of the journal Entomologia Experimentalis it Applicata.
“If they are converting the sun’s solar energy to fuel chemical work, without the aid of microbial symbionts - organisms that live together with a host - we would consider this a highly remarkable feat in the animal world,” says SFU professor Gerhard Gries, who co-authored the paper with Zamir Punja and Joseph Schwarz
Gries says while the phenomenon may exist in other insects it has yet to be observed or reported.