Editors' ChoiceSensory Perception

How Hawkmoths Sniff Out a Flower

Sci. Signal.  01 Jul 2014:
Vol. 7, Issue 332, pp. ec182
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.2005637

Pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, are the true targets of the flower odors we love so much. Though we might imagine insects “following their noses,” the wealth of odors in the real world can drown out the smell of a flower, making it hard to find. Riffell et al. found that hawkmoths find angel’s trumpets by creating a neuronal picture within their antennal lobe, the part of the moth brain that receives olfactory signals from the antennae (see the Perspective by Szyszka). The picture represents both the flower and the background odors. Finding a flower involves a complex reading of both background and target odors, and changes in the background odors—including human pollutants—can hinder the process.

J. A. Riffell, E. Shlizerman, E. Sanders, L. Abrell, B. Medina, A. J. Hinterwirth, J. N. Kutz, Flower discrimination by pollinators in a dynamic chemical environment. Science 344, 1515–1518 (2014). [Abstract] [Full Text]

P. Szyszka, Follow the odor. Science 344, 1454 (2014). [Abstract] [Full Text]