Stink bug mothers will lay darker or lighter eggs depending on how much light is reflecting off of a surface. The newly discovered adaptation is likely related to how some species of stink bugs are able to deposit their eggs on top of leaves, as the darker-colored eggs are better protected from UV radiation. Surprisingly, the eggs are not darkened by melanin, but by a previously unknown pigment. The findings, published online on July 23, 2015 in Current Biology, were driven by the curiosity of a University of Montreal Ph.D. student (Paul Abram), who uses the stink bugs as hosts for parasitic wasps. The article is titled “An Insect with Selective Control of Egg Coloration.” Egg color variation exists in other species of animals, but how Podisus maculiventris (the spined soldier stink bug, commonly found in fields and backyard gardens across North America) selectively controls egg pigmentation based on light perception is a new take on the trait. Certain birds and insects will lay subtly differently colored eggs, but typically in response to changes in age or diet, not in response to a sensory cue from the environment. "We suspect that these bugs possess some kind of physiological system that receives visual input from the environment and then modulates the application of a pigment in real time," says lead author Abram, who is working toward his doctorate in entomology. "This is the first animal found that can selectively control egg color in response to environmental conditions, but we really doubt that it's the only one." Abram was inspired to pursue this line of research by the crossword puzzle of a newspaper lining the bottom of a stink bug cage. He noticed that darker-colored eggs tended to appear on the black squares of the puzzle and the lighter-colored eggs on the light squares.
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