Male fruit flies use a protein receptor found on taste-sensing neurons to detect pheromones from potential adversaries reports a paper published online this week in Nature Neuroscience. This study provides further evidence that animals use a hierarchy of pheromone detection to guide social behaviour.
As with most animals relying on sexual reproduction, male Drosophila need to distinguish between potential female mates and potential male competitors. David Anderson and colleagues found that normal male flies show increased male-male courtship behaviour and decreased aggression toward other mutant males lacking a particular pheromone even if those mutant males had normal levels of other odorants. Male flies that lacked a particular receptor for taste in their bitter-sensing neurons were more likely to “court” other males than treat them as adversaries.
This work suggests that taste pheromones likely preside over smell-based signals to direct male-male aggression behaviour in fruit flies.