A Literally Crappy House Protects Beetle Larva From Predators

By Brett Israel | November 9, 2009 1:59 pm

leaf-beetle-webLeaf beetle mothers give their children an inheritance that many people wouldn’t quite appreciate—a mobile home made of poop. Gee thanks, mom. As Not Exactly Rocket Science describes:

After [a female] lays her eggs, she seals each one in a bell-shaped case. When the larva hatches, it performs some renovations, cutting a hole in the roof and enlarge the structure with their own poo. By sticking its head and legs out, it converts its excremental maisonette into a mobile home, one that it carries around with them until adulthood.

This beetle behavior has been well established by scientists. However, the leaf beetle Neochlamisus platanithey has been singled out by researchers for its “elaborate example of faecal architecture.” The larvae add a little insulation in the form of plant hairs, called trichomes, which help ward off predators, according to new research.

Staged attacks on larvae with and without fecal shelters demonstrated that poop-protected larva were less likely to be attacked by crickets, spined soldier bugs, and green lynx spiders than unprotected larva. NERS explains why:

Even if a predator investigates the case, they must first breach the unappetising shield, and the larva doesn’t make it easy for them. [The researchers] saw that, in some cases, the larvae pulled their cases down flush with the floor, making them even harder to penetrate. That defence was particularly effective against the bugs, whose stabbing mouthparts couldn’t break through the wall of the case. Some of the larvae also wiggled their cases back and forth, which could serve to shake off or startle a predator.

Even if a predator breaks through the case (as frequent holes in the structures suggest), they’d meet a large concentration of trichomes in the attic before they reached the larva underneath.

For beetles at least, putting up with their mothers’ crap can save their lives.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Enough of This S#%t! Dung Beetles Morph into Millipede-Eaters
Discoblog: Finally! An iPhone App That Lets You Track Your Bathroom Habits
Discoblog: Archeologists Find the Darnedest Things Digging Around in Hyena Poop

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Neochlamisus

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