Phlebotomus papatasi (Diptera: Psychodidae) is the Old World sand fly vector of zoonotic cutaneous leishmaniasis caused by Leishmania major (Trypanosomatidae: Kinetoplastida), a debilitating and disfiguring protist parasitic disease prevalent throughout southern Mediterranean countries, the Middle East, as well as southern and eastern European countries, where it is regarded as a serious public health problem. Little is known of the mating ecology of P. papatasi, and, in particular, the role (if any) of pheromones is not known. In this laboratory- and field-based study, we have shown that a male-produced sex pheromone exists in P. papatasi. Young female P. papatasi are attracted to the headspace volatiles of small groups of males, males and females together, but not females alone. Males were not attracted to males, females, or mixed groups of males and females in the laboratory. Larger groups of males or males and females together were repellent in the laboratory study. Field experiments showed that Centers for Disease Control (CDC) light traps baited with small groups of males and females together were attractive to females, but not males. CDC traps baited with large groups of males and females together caught significantly fewer females and males than the control traps; however, the proportion of females caught compared with males overall was much higher than with CDC traps baited with small numbers of males and females. These results suggest that females may be attracted in preference to males to the vicinity of the baited traps and are highly sensitive to the concentration of male pheromone. It also suggests that P. papatasi mating behavior is fundamentally different from that of Lutzomyia longipalpis, where large mating aggregations of males and females occur.
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