Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 513–524 | Cite as

Sequestration of Furostanol Saponins by Monophadnus Sawfly Larvae

  • José M. Prieto
  • Urs Schaffner
  • Alison Barker
  • Alessandra Braca
  • Tiziana Siciliano
  • Jean-Luc Boevé


Sawfly larvae of the tribe Phymatocerini (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae), which are specialized on toxic plants in the orders Liliales and Ranunculales, exude a droplet of deterrent hemolymph upon attack by a predator. We investigated whether secondary plant metabolites from Ranunculaceae leaves are sequestered by phymatocerine Monophadnus species, i.e., Monophadnus alpicola feeding upon Pulsatilla alpina and Monophadnus monticola feeding upon Ranunculus lanuginosus. Moreover, two undescribed Monophadnus species were studied: species A collected from Helleborus foetidus and species B collected from Helleborus viridis. Comparative high-performance liquid chromatographic–photodiode array detection–electrospray ionization–mass spectrometric analyses of plant leaf and insect hemolymph extracts revealed the presence of furostanol saponins in all samples. Larvae of species A and B actively sequestered (25R)-26-[(α-l-rhamnopyranosyl)oxy]-22α-methoxyfurost-5-en-3β-yl O-β-d-glucopyranosyl-(1→3)-O-[6-acetyl-β-d-glucopyranosyl-(1→3)]-O-β-d-glucopyranoside (compound 1). This compound occurred at a 65- to 200-fold higher concentration in the hemolymph of the two species (1.6 and 17.5 μmol/g FW, respectively) than in their host plant (0.008 and 0.268 μmol/g FW, respectively). In M. monticola, compound 1 was found at a concentration (1.2 μmol/g FW) similar to that in the host plant (1.36 μmol/g FW). The compound could not be detected consistently in M. alpicola larvae where, however, a related saponin may be present. Additional furostanol saponins were found in H. foetidus and H. viridis, but not in the two Monophadnus species feeding on them, indicating that sequestration of compound 1 is a highly specific process. In laboratory bioassays, crude hemolymph of three Monophadnus species showed a significant feeding deterrent activity against a potential predator, Myrmica rubra ant workers. Isolated furostanol saponins were also active against the ants, at a concentration range similar to that found in the hemolymph. Thus, these compounds seem to play a major role for chemical defense of Monophadnus larvae, although other plant secondary metabolites (glycosylated ecdysteroids) were also detected in their hemolymph. Physiological and ecological implications of the sequestered furostanol saponins are discussed.


Monophadnus sawfly larvae Ranunculaceae Helleborus Ranunculus Pulsatilla Antipredator defense Easy bleeding Sequestration Hemolymph Furostanol saponins 



We thank Prof. N. de Tommasi (Dipartimento di Scienze Farmaceutiche, Università di Salerno, Italy) for advice and registering the NMR spectra available for our studies; Dr A. Taeger for advice on sawfly identification; and Prof. M. Hilker and two anonymous referees for their constructive reviews. The authors acknowledge the financial support provided by the European Community’s Improving Human Potential Programme under contract HPRN-CT-1999-00054 (INCHECO) and the Swiss Bundesamt für Bildung und Wissenschaft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • José M. Prieto
    • 1
  • Urs Schaffner
    • 2
  • Alison Barker
    • 2
  • Alessandra Braca
    • 1
  • Tiziana Siciliano
    • 1
  • Jean-Luc Boevé
    • 3
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Chimica Bioorganica e BiofarmaciaUniversità di PisaPisaItaly
  2. 2.CABI-Bioscience Switzerland CentreDelémontSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of EntomologyRoyal Belgian Institute of Natural SciencesBruxellesBelgium

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