According to a new discovery, a North American bug species basks in sunlight to fend off germs on the body.
Western Boxelder Bugs (WBB), found largely in the interior regions of British Columbia, are known to group together in sunlit patches, and while there, they release monoterpenes, strong-smelling chemical compounds that help protect the bugs by killing germs on their bodies.
"Prophylactic (protective) sunbathing defends these bugs against pathogens that they encounter in their shelters," says biology professor Gerhard Gries, from Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada, the journal Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata reports.
Gfries co-authored the study with colleague Zamir Punja and former graduate student Joseph Schwarz, now working on his entomology doctorate at the Washington State University.
Researchers from Simon Fraser previously thought the compounds had a role in reproduction or defending the bugs against predators, according to a statement.
But the latest study found that the compounds were emitted when the bugs were in sunshine - in effect, sunbathing - and weren't used for communication or other purposes.
Sunlight appears to activate the biosynthesis of the compounds in the bugs, described as highly gregarious creatures.
The chemicals then physically encase fungal spores on the bugs' body surface and set off a chain of events that ultimately protect them from germ penetration.