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Biol Lett. 2009 Apr 23;5(2):152-5. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2008.0654. Epub 2009 Jan 20.

From coprophagy to predation: a dung beetle that kills millipedes.

Author information

  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA. tlarsen@princeton.edu

Abstract

The dung beetle subfamily Scarabaeinae is a cosmopolitan group of insects that feed primarily on dung. We describe the first case of an obligate predatory dung beetle and contrast its behaviour and morphology with those of its coprophagous sympatric congeners. Deltochilum valgum Burmeister killed and consumed millipedes in lowland rainforest in Peru. Ancestral ball-rolling behaviour shared by other canthonine species is abandoned, and the head, hind tibiae and pygidium of D. valgum are modified for novel functions during millipede predation. Millipedes were killed by disarticulation, often through decapitation, using the clypeus as a lever. Beetles killed millipedes much larger than themselves. In pitfall traps, D. valgum was attracted exclusively to millipedes, and preferred injured over uninjured millipedes. Morphological similarities placing D. valgum in the same subgenus with non-predatory dung-feeding species suggest a major and potentially rapid behavioural shift from coprophagy to predation. Ecological transitions enabling the exploitation of dramatically atypical niches, which may be more likely to occur when competition is intense, may help explain the evolution of novel ecological guilds and the diversification of exceptionally species-rich groups such as insects.

PMID:
19158030
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2665820
Free PMC Article

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