Food makes male flies frisky

Courtship in a classic lab insect is driven by fruity smells

4:46pm, September 28, 2011

It’s the smell of food that gets male fruit flies in the romantic mood, says a new study exploring the sexual habits of Drosophila melanogaster

When trying to woo an attractive female the sexually excited male fruit fly becomes a kind of troubadour, playing a love song with one wing as it waltzes behind its object of desire. But what exactly provokes this courtly behavior has been a mystery. 

New experiments reported online September 28 in Nature show that removing the gene for an olfactory protein called IR84a makes male flies less apt to perform their song and dance. Found amid nerve cells that spur reproductive activity in fruit flies, the protein is primarily stimulated by two aromas — phenylacetic acid and phenylacetaldehyde. Strangely, these aphrodisiacal odors are given off not by femaleflies, but by the fruit and plant tissues the flies eat and use for laying eggs.

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