Filial cannibalism in burying beetles

  • Bartlett J
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Abstract

Infanticide is a common phenomenon in many animal groups, but filial cannibalism, the deliberate killing and consumption by parents of their own young, is extremely unusual. The bury- ing beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides Herbst has a limited food supply, in the form of a buried corpse, on which to raise its young. On corpses weighing 10-15 g, clutch size in the lab is such that complete hatching success will produce more larvae than the corpse can support without severe reduction in the individual weights of final instars. The parents re- duce the brood by killing and eating almost half of the first stage larvae. It is suggested that, in the field, predation of eggs and newly hatched lar- vae may be heavy, and that the excess eggs are laid as an insurance. If survival is then unusually high, superfluous young are killed by the parents before competition for food can occur.

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