- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Butterflies are good learners--just ask Martha Weiss.
Weiss, associate professor of biology at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., will discuss "Lepidopteran Learning and Memory: Caterpillars, Butterflies, and the Mysterious In-Between" at the UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar on Wednesday, Nov. 16 in 122 Briggs Hall.
Her lecture, from 12:10 to 1 p.m., will make you think.
"Despite a common perception to the contrary, lepidopterans are very good learners," says Weiss, who received her bachelor's degree in geological sciences from Harvard University in 1980 and her doctorate in botany from UC Berkeley in 1992. "Indeed, learning and memory are apparent across the entire lepidopteran life cycle. Caterpillars can associate tastes or odors with the presence of food, and can also learn to avoid cues associated with aversive stimuli."
"A capacity for rapid and flexible associative learning allows butterflies to adjust their foraging efforts in response to variable floral resources and to locate appropriate host plants for oviposition," she says. "Butterflies can associate colors, patterns, and even shapes with nectar rewards or oviposition cues, and can also learn to avoid aversive stimuli."
And the pupal stage? Can a caterpillar learn something that a butterfly or moth will remember? "Perhaps surprisingly," Weiss says, "the answer is YES -- memory of larval experience can persist in the pupa over a month, and is clearly expressed in the emergent adults."
That's not all. "Lepidoptera provide terrific opportunities, well beyond the familiar painted lady life cycle, for hands-on elementary science education."
Her talk is scheduled to be recorded and then posted on UCTV.
So, the next time you see a butterfly, such as a Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus), landing on a Tithonia or other blossom, just remember that "butterflies can associate colors, patterns and even shapes with nectar rewards or oviposition cues."
Butterflies are good learners!