Burying beetles hatch survival plan to source food, study shows

January 20, 2015, University of Edinburgh
Adult burying beetle -- Nicrophorus vespilloides -- with larva. Credit: Per Smiseth

Young beetles pick up sensory signals from adult insects to increase their chances of being fed - and shorten the odds of being killed instead.

A study of burying beetles has shown that allow to distinguish between adults likely to provide food and those that will ignore or attack them.

Beetle larvae have an in-built ability to identify different adults based on distinct chemicals found on the outside of their shells and adjust their begging behaviour accordingly, researchers say.

Adult beetles bury and feed upon the carcasses of small birds and rodents to provide their young with food. They regurgitate the pre-digested flesh for larvae when they beg to be fed.

The research by the University of Edinburgh shows that larvae can distinguish between breeding and non-breeding adults. They beg from breeding beetles but avoid non-breeding adults, as these tend to view the larvae as potential competition for their own unhatched young and kill them.

The study of a species called Nicrophorus vespilloides also reveals larvae do not discriminate between male and female parents when they beg for food as both adults will feed their young if prompted.

The team found that larvae opt to beg for food from unfamiliar beetles over familiar ones. Researchers say larvae may instinctively beg more from adults unknown to them, which could benefit young beetles by increasing the amount of resources they receive as they grow.

Mature are known to distinguish between adults based on the chemical make-up of their shells. The team's evidence is the first to show that larvae share the same ability.

Maarit Mäenpää, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who conducted the study, said: "Our results show that larvae have the ability to recognise their parents, and they use it selectively to their advantage. It is an exciting result shedding more light on the mechanisms behind the complex behaviours exhibited by these ."

The study is published in the journal Ethology.

Explore further: Bigger is not always better, but it helps, says new research on beetles

Related Stories

Brazilian scarab beetles found to be termitophiles

January 13, 2015

Termite soldiers are able to chemically detect intruders in their colonies. While most trespassers are swiftly dealt with, some spiders, centipedes, millipedes, and insects are allowed to find shelter within termite nests. ...

Seed beetle diversity in Xinjiang, China

January 6, 2015

An international team of scientists has looked into the diminutive world of seed beetles in Xinjiang, China to reveal a diversity of 19 species for the region, 4 of which are new records for the area. The study was published ...

Age matters: Young larvae boost pollen foraging in honey bees

November 18, 2014

Toddlers and tweens have very different needs, which influence how parents provide for them. The same is true in honey bees, but instead of communicating their needs via language, honey bee larvae emit chemical signals called ...

Researchers find mother beetles eat young that beg too much

August 22, 2013

(Phys.org) —A pair of researchers from the University of Edinburgh has found that a certain type of beetle mother engages in offspring cannibalism when pestered too much. In their paper published in Behavioral Ecology, ...

Recommended for you

Space-inspired speed breeding for crop improvement

November 16, 2018

Technology first used by NASA to grow plants extra-terrestrially is fast tracking improvements in a range of crops. Scientists at John Innes Centre and the University of Queensland have improved the technique, known as speed ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.