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A Wind Tunnel for Odor Mediated Insect Behavioural Assays

Published: November 30th, 2018



1Division of Biotechnology and Plant Health, Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (Nibio), 2Integrated Plant Protection Unit, Department of Plant Protection Biology, Swedish University of Agricultural Science, 3Department of Pest Control, Norwegian Institute of Public Health

Here, we describe the construction and use of a wind tunnel for odor mediated behavioural assays with insects. The wind tunnel design facilitates the release of odor sources by several methods, with and without visual stimuli. Wind tunnel experiments are important methods to identify behaviorally active volatile chemicals.

Olfaction is the most important sensory mechanism by which many insects interact with their environment and a wind tunnel is an excellent tool to study insect chemical ecology. Insects can locate point sources in a three-dimensional environment through the sensory interaction and sophisticated behavior. The quantification of this behavior is a key element in the development of new tools for pest control and decision support. A wind tunnel with a suitable flight section with laminar air flow, visual cues for in-flight feedback and a variety of options for the application of odors can be used to measure complex behaviour which subsequently may allow the identification of attractive or repellent odors, insect flight characteristics, visual-odor interactions and interactions between attractants and odors lingering as background odors in the environment. A wind tunnel holds the advantage of studying the odor mediated behavioural repertoire of an insect in a laboratory setting. Behavioural measures in a controlled setting provide the link between the insect physiology and field application. A wind tunnel must be a flexible tool and should easily support the changes to setup and hardware to fit different research questions. The major disadvantage to the wind tunnel setup described here, is the clean odor background which necessitates special attention when developing a synthetic volatile blend for field application.

The wind tunnel is an important tool in insect chemical ecology studies that allow laboratory testing of insect flight responses to semiochemicals. By releasing odors into a controlled wind stream, the insects' behavioural response to these stimuli can be directly monitored by studying their upwind flight towards the source. Olfaction is the most important sensory mechanism by which many insects interact with their biotic environment1. Insects use odor cues to find suitable partners for mating. Similarly, they use odor bouquets from host resources to find food for themselves, or the offspring. Plants release floral odors in combination with....

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1. Preparing Glass Tubes

  1. Prepare the glass tubes (e.g., 2.8 cm diameter, 13 cm long) and close one end with a plastic snap cap.
  2. Separate 10 insects into the capped glass tubes and cover the remaining end with gauze using a rubber band. Allow the insects to acclimatize to the temperature, light conditions and humidity of the wind tunnel room for at least 2 h.
    NOTE: The number of insects inside each tube depends on the species and research question.

2. .......

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Blowflies responds strongly to odors from dead animals which represents an ephemeral larval growth substrate19,20. Using dead mice as a natural odor source, we investigated the details of the flight behavior of 15 day old, mated female C. vicina, with or without, a visual stimuli next to the odor release point13. To eliminate the natural visual cue, we used the glass jar system described above. Wit.......

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The wind tunnel is a helpful tool for identifying both attractive and repellent odors for many insects4,9. With sound knowledge of the ecology, biology and behaviour of the insect studied, its flight characteristics can be easily identified and the environmental conditions, wind speed, visual stimuli and odor application can be tailored to fit. It is recommended when starting out with a new species, to fine tune the wind tunnel parameters using the most attractiv.......

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M. Tasin was supported by the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development (Formas, Grant 2013-934).


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Flight arena any NA Construct to fit the filter housing
Filter housing x 2 Camfill Farr Contains the dust and charcoal filters
Fan x 2 Fischbach Model D640/E35 Silent fan with continous dimmer switch
Perforated grids any NA Two different open areas are needed, e.g. 54 and 51%
Flowmeter Swema air Swema air 300 Identifying the wind speed
Ultrasonic sprayer SonoTek Sprayer nozzle with conical tip and inserted microbore
Broadband ultrasonic generator SonoTek Function generator
Syringe pump CMA microdialysis CMA 102 Liquid delivery
FEP tubing CMA microdialysis 0.12 mm inner diameter
Tubing adaptors CMA microdialysis Connectors for zero internal volume
Gastight syringe any NA 1000 µL syringe for headspace collections and synthetic blends
Gastight syringe any  NA 1000 µL syringe for cleaning sprayer
Torch any NA Small light source for checking sprayer release
Timer any NA Timer with alarm function 
Holder for insect release any NA Metal construction
Lighting any NA LED is preferable due to low heat production
Moisturiser any NA Size depends on volume of wind tunnel room
Temperature control any NA Temperture range depends on species
Glass tubes any NA Tubes (2.8 cm diameter, 13 cm long) for  insects
Snap cap any NA Snap cap that fits the glass tube
Gauze any NA Fabric to close the glass tube
Rubber band any NA To hold gauze in place
Glass cylinder any NA Cylinder for odour containment and landing platform (10 cm diameter, 12.5 cm long)
Glass jars any NA Glass jars for dynamic headspace collection
Connectors and tubes any NA Tubes and connectors depends on type of glass jars
Air supply any NA From laboratory air or bottles
Charcoal filters any NA For cleaning the outside air sypply
Vial any NA Small vial with water to keep plant material fresh
Oven any NA Heat metal and glassware to 300 degrees to decontaminate

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