Timely trigger of caterpillar zombie behaviour: temporal requirements for light in baculovirus-induced tree-top disease

Host behavioural manipulation is a common strategy used by parasites to enhance their survival and/or transmission. Baculoviruses induce hyperactivity and tree-top disease (pre-death climbing behaviour) in their caterpillar hosts. However, little is known about the underlying mechanisms of this behavioural manipulation. A previous study showed that the baculovirus Spodoptera exigua multiple nucleopolyhedrovirus (SeMNPV) induced tree-top disease at 3 days post infection in third instar S. exigua larvae and that light plays a key role in triggering this behaviour. Here we investigated the temporal requirements for the presence of light to trigger this behaviour and found that light from above was needed between 43 and 50 h post infection to induce tree-top disease. Infected larvae that were not exposed to light from above in this period finally died at low positions. Exposure to light prior to this period did not affect the final positions where larvae died. Overall we conclude that light in a particular time frame is needed to trigger SeMNPV-induced tree-top disease in S. exigua larvae.