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How mating moths elude spider's web
By Roger Highfield

BIOLOGISTS have discovered the first example of a sexually-transmitted chemical that protects females from predators.

The male rattlebox moth (Utetheisa ornatrix) gives a potent chemical with his sperm to protect his partner for life against predatory spiders, according to a team from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

"This classy moth gives his bride a gift she can really use - a life assurance policy, if you will - that keeps paying off every time her life is in danger," said Prof Thomas Eisner, who reports the find today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We have added one more item to that very short list, 'What are males good for?' " he said. "They evidently donate more than sperm."

The adult male obtains the chemical by eating rattlebox plants while in the larval stage. One taste of the chemical-laden female moth is enough to make a spider cut loose its intended prey from the web.

A derivative of the chemical is released from two brushes on the male's abdomen during the courtship dance, Prof Eisner added, so the female has a way of sensing which suitor offers the best defence.

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