From coprophagy to predation: a dung beetle that kills millipedes

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2009
Authors:T. H. Larsen, Lopera, A., Forsyth, A., Genier, F.
Journal:Biology Letters
Date Published:Apr
Type of Article:Article
ISBN Number:1744-9561
Keywords:BEHAVIOR, COLEOPTERA, DEAD, Deltochilum valgum, dung beetle, ecological transition, EVOLUTION, guild, millipede predation, Peru, SCARABAEIDAE

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.

URL:<Go to ISI>://000264371900003
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