Moths and caterpillars of the Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca sexta) have been used for decades to study immunity, microbial pathogenicity, neurotoxicity, and flight mechanics. Bath’s Manduca colony dates back to the original field isolates collected by Yamamoto in North Carolina in the 1960’s (Yamamoto & Fraenkel, 1960). The Tobacco Hornworms arrived in Bath via the Truman-Riddiford laboratories in Seattle and have been in continuous culture since 1978 without the addition of animals from elsewhere. Our moths are kept in a cage with lights mimicking the cycles of the sun and the moon and artificial flowers filled with sugary water. Since Tobacco Hornworms are rather finicky where they lay their eggs, a small piece of cloth treated with tobacco juice is used to coerce the females. Once the eggs have hatched, each cannibalistic caterpillar lives in its own little cup where they are reared on a wholesome diet based on wheat-germ. Fifth instar caterpillars are used for various experiments at the University of Bath. All stages of development are used in Bath Open Day presentations and are frequently shipped to other universities and institutions.
Researchers at Bath employ M. sexta caterpillars to study microbial pathogenesis of bacteria and yeast species, to dissect insect immunity, to investigate the role of nutrition in virulence, and as a model system for the role of modified proteins in high blood sugar conditions. The caterpillars share their adventures via Twitter @Manduca_sexta