Interactions between butterflies and caterpillars in the genus Pieris and plants in the family Brassicaceae are among the best explored in the field of insect–plant biology. However, we report here for the first time that Pieris brassicae, commonly assumed to be a typical folivore, actually prefers to feed on flowers of three Brassica nigra genotypes rather than on their leaves. First- and second-instar caterpillars were observed to feed primarily on leaves, whereas late second and early third instars migrated via the small leaves of the flower branches to the flower buds and flowers. Once flower feeding began, no further leaf feeding was observed. We investigated growth rates of caterpillars having access exclusively to either leaves of flowering plants or flowers. In addition, we analyzed glucosinolate concentrations in leaves and flowers. Late-second- and early-third-instar P. brassicae caterpillars moved upward into the inflorescences of B. nigra and fed on buds and flowers until the end of the final (fifth) instar, after which they entered into the wandering stage, leaving the plant in search of a pupation site. Flower feeding sustained a significantly higher growth rate than leaf feeding. Flowers contained levels of glucosinolates up to five times higher than those of leaves. Five glucosinolates were identified: the aliphatic sinigrin, the aromatic phenyethylglucosinolate, and three indole glucosinolates: glucobrassicin, 4-methoxyglucobrassicin, and 4-hydroxyglucobrassicin. Tissue type and genotype were the most important factors affecting levels of identified glucosinolates. Sinigrin was by far the most abundant compound in all three genotypes. Sinigrin, 4-hydroxyglucobrassicin, and phenylethylglucosinolate were present at significantly higher levels in flowers than in leaves. In response to caterpillar feeding, sinigrin levels in both leaves and flowers were significantly higher than in undamaged plants, whereas 4-hydroxyglucobrassicin leaf levels were lower. Our results show that feeding on flower tissues, containing higher concentrations of glucosinolates, provides P. brassicae with a nutritional benefit in terms of higher growth rate. This preference appears to be in contrast to published negative effects of volatile glucosinolate breakdown products on the closely related Pieris rapae.
Smallegange, R. C., van Loon, J. J. A., Blatt, S. E., Harvey, J. A., Agerbirk, N., & Dicke, M. (2007). Flower vs. leaf feeding by Pieris brassicae : Glucosinolate-rich flower tissues are preferred and sustain higher growth rate. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 33(10), 1831-1844. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-007-9350-x