Cactoblastis cactorum Berg (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae), the cactus moth, is a well-known biological control agent of prickly pear cactus (Cactaceae: Opuntia Miller). The arrival of the moth in Florida and its subsequent spread through the southeastern United States poses a threat to opuntioid diversity in North America. Of particular concern are the ecological and economic impacts the moth could have in the southwestern United States and Mexico, where both native and cultivated Opuntia species are important resources. It is unknown which species would best support larval development if the moth were to spread further westward in North America. This study aimed to determine if ovipositing females demonstrate preferences for any of 14 common opuntioids native to or naturalized in Mexico and the southwestern United States; which of these opuntioids best support larval development; and if oviposition preference correlates with larval performance, as predicted by simple adaptive models. Results from a field experiment showed that female moths preferred O. engelmannii Salm-Dyck ex Engelmann variety linguiformis (Griffiths) Parfitt and Pinkava and O. engelmannii variety engelmannii for oviposition. A generalized linear model showed number of cladodes and degree of spininess to be significant predictors of oviposition activity. Results from a no-choice larval survival experiment showed Consolea rubescens (Salm-Dyck ex de Candolle.) Lemaire and O. streptacantha Lemaire to be the best hosts. Epidermal toughness was a significant predictor of most larval fitness parameters. In general, oviposition preference was not correlated with larval performance. A lack of co-evolutionary history between C. cactorum and North American opuntioid species may help explain this disconnect.
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