perfumes provoke pests

Having a problem with hornets bothering you at the family picnic? Perhaps it’s the perfume you’re wearing — or even the food you’re eating. Masato Ono of Tamagawa University in Tokyo and colleagues report in the August 7 Nature that chemicals found in fragrances and manufactured food can make hornets fly into a frenzy and attack. When hornets are threatened, they release alarm pheromones — chemical signals — that cause fellow hornets to attack defensively. The researchers analyzed the components of these pheromones and confirmed that they contain chemicals sometimes used in fragrances and in food flavorings and speculate that “it is possible that they might provoke a seemingly unwarranted hornet attack on humans.” They conclude, “It may therefore be sensible to screen these commercial products for the presence of pheromones that might act as an alarm signal to dangerous insects.”

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 8/12/2003.
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