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Horm Behav. 2004 Mar;45(3):159-67.

Social stimuli affect juvenile hormone during breeding in biparental burying beetles (Silphidae: Nicrophorus).

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824, USA.


Extended biparental care is rare in insects but provides an excellent opportunity to investigate the interaction between the endocrine system and the physical and social environment in the regulation of this behavior. Burying beetles (Nicrophorus spp.) have facultative biparental care and depend on locating a small vertebrate carcass that they bury and prepare as food for their young. Commonly, both male and female Nicrophorus orbicollis remain in the burial chamber after eggs hatch to feed and guard the larvae. In both sexes, juvenile hormone (JH) rises rapidly in response to the discovery and assessment of the carcass; it returns to near baseline in 24 h; then in females it reaches very high titers at the onset of maternal care. In this paper, we investigate some social (presence of a mate, mating history, larval age) and environmental (carcass size) factors that may affect this endocrine profile. For females, neither the presence of a mate nor mating status (i.e., virginity) affected the initial rise of JH. However, the absence of a mate significantly depressed the JH rise in males. Eighty-seven percent of the single males buried the carcass like paired males but 87% also released pheromones to attract a mate. JH hemolymph titers in females whose broods were replaced every 24 h with newly hatch larvae were significantly higher than those of females rearing aging broods. Lastly, even though larger carcasses took longer to bury and prepare and oviposition was delayed, neither JH titers nor speed of ovarian development was affected by carcass size.

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