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Anim Behav. 1998 Jan;55(1):97-107.

Parental care improves offspring survival and growth in burying beetles

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Institut fur Zoologie der Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat


Burying beetles (genus Nicrophorus) provide elaborate parental care to their offspring. Parental beetles defend a small vertebrate carcass, which constitutes the sole food source for the larvae. They also manipulate the carcass in various ways and directly regurgitate pre-digested carrion to the young. The benefits of carcass manipulation and regurgitation have been the subject of a few small-scale studies that have yielded conflicting results. In this study, we investigated the benefits of these behaviours and tested for possible beneficial effects on larval survival rates and final body mass in N. vespilloides. In this species: (1) larval survival and mass were significantly higher in broods receiving parental care throughout larval development on the carcass than in broods developing in the absence of adults; (2) parental presence immediately subsequent to larval hatching greatly improved larval survival rates; (3) continued parental presence for several days further improved larval growth, leading to a greater final mass of individual larvae; (4) larval survival and growth were improved by parental preparation of carcasses and by an excision made in the integument of the carcass surface by the parents that allows the larvae ready access to their food; (5) positive effects of parental feeding on larval survival and growth were not mediated by the transfer of symbionts.


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