Burying Beetles Limit Number of Offspring When Food Is Scarce

Beetles Have A Unique Way of Family Planning

It’s not only human parents who plan everything for the future especially with regards to number of children. This comes with an ideal thought of making sure parents can provide the best of everything for the welfare of their children. Amazingly, the burying beetles also have this behavior pattern.

According to a study conducted by researchers from University of New Hampshire, burying beetles choose the number of their offspring based on available resources like food.

This new finding is confirmed by Brooke Woelber, in the biological sciences department at the University of New Hampshire and the study’s lead author.

Worlber said, “What we see here, is burying beetles providing parental care which the majority of insects do not. They are assessing their situation and making decisions about the number of offspring they should have, and can survive, in certain environments.”

Burying beetles are the undertakers of the animal world – a group of large beetles that bury dead and decaying animals such as mice and small birds. Burying beetles can be found wherever there are corpses for them to feed on, and often fly into lights at night.

Very Unique in the Insect World

The researchers found that burying beetles provide unique parental care to their offspring, thus making them so unique from the other insects. Most other insects lay their eggs and leave. But it is not the case among the burying beetles.

Woeber said, “Burying beetles are one of the few insects where both the male and female parent provide care to their developing young – much like what we see in some birds.”

Aside from that, the beetle parents take a more unique and active role in reproduction compared to other insects.

Woelber added, “By finding a food source such as a mouse carcass, burying it, then consuming and regurgitating it to feed their developing young.”

Burying Beetles Limit Number of Offspring When Food Is Scarce 1
Burying beetles are the undertakers of the animal world.

Availability of Food

When planning for size and number of offspring, it is influenced by availability of food.

In the controlled environment where food was abundant, and beetles did not face any competition for food, the beetle parents produced significantly more offspring that ended up smaller as they matured. These results occurred only when the beetles were well-fed.

In contrast, in environments where food was limited, the number of offspring was also limited. Specifically, when there was less food and the beetles faced more competition for nourishment, prospective parents made a decision to have fewer offspring. However, in these high-competition and limited-food environments, the offspring were significantly larger compared to the low-competition environments where food was abundant and offspring were smaller.

Woelber said, “These beetles assess the situation and decide how many offspring to rear (by eating some larvae) so they will have the best chance to survive and reproduce in a competitive world. This parental interaction and care of their young throughout development makes burying beetles unique. Most other insect species lay their eggs and leave.”

The researchers were able to gather data by placing burying beetles in manipulated different environments – by increasing or decreasing the number of beetles, which either increased or decreased the competition for food, and changed the availability of food for future offspring.

Mina Fabulous
Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn't preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.