UMMS Affiliation

Department of Neurobiology; Reppert Lab

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Neuroscience and Neurobiology


The late 5th instar caterpillar of the cecropia silk moth (Hyalophora cecropia) spins a silken cocoon with a distinct, multilayered architecture. The cocoon construction program, first described by the seminal work of Van der Kloot and Williams, consists of a highly ordered sequence of events. We perform behavioral experiments to re-evaluate the original cecropia work, which hypothesized that the length of silk that passes through the spinneret controls the orderly execution of each of the discrete events of cocoon spinning. We confirm and extend by three-dimensional scanning and quantitative measurements of silk weights that if cocoon construction is interrupted, upon re-spinning, the caterpillar continues the cocoon program from where it left off. We also confirm and extend by quantitative measurements of silk weights that cecropia caterpillars will not bypass any of the sections of the cocoon during the construction process, even if presented with a pre-spun section of a cocoon spun by another caterpillar. Blocking silk output inhibits caterpillars from performing normal spinning behaviors used for cocoon construction. Surprisingly, unblocking silk output 24-hr later did not restart the cocoon construction program, suggesting the involvement of a temporally-defined interval timer. We confirm with surgical reductions of the silk glands that it is the length of silk itself that matters, rather than the total amount of silk extracted by individuals. We used scanning electron microscopy to directly show that either mono- or dual-filament silk (i.e., equal silk lengths but which vary in their total amount of silk extracted) can be used to construct equivalent cocoons of normal size and that contain the relevant layers. We propose that our findings, taken together with the results of prior studies, strongly support the hypothesis that the caterpillar uses a silk "odometer" to measure the length of silk extracted during cocoon construction but does so in a temporally regulated manner. We further postulate that our examination of the anatomy of the silk spinning apparatus and ablating spinneret sensory output provides evidence that silk length measurement occurs upstream of output from the spinneret.


Caterpillars, Moths and butterflies, Larvae, Animal behavior, Endocrine system procedures, Muscle proteins, Ganglia, Spider webs

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Copyright: © 2020 Sehadova et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

DOI of Published Version



Sehadova H, Guerra PA, Sauman I, Reppert SM. A re-evaluation of silk measurement by the cecropia caterpillar (Hyalophora cecropia) during cocoon construction reveals use of a silk odometer that is temporally regulated. PLoS One. 2020 Feb 19;15(2):e0228453. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0228453. Erratum in: PLoS One. 2020 Mar 12;15(3):e0230597. PMID: 32074121; PMCID: PMC7029867. Link to article on publisher's site

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PloS one

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.