Female beetles utilize pheromones to keep males away at times they choose not to mate, according to new findings. These chemical signals act as a repellent to males looking for a receptive female.

Burying beetles use the signals when they are caring for young, so they are not impregnated before the offspring are ready. Males interpret the pheromone to say the female is not fertile, a response that prevents mating. This shows the animals, at least during a three-day period in the life of their offspring, favor raising their children over creating new babies.

"Our study helps to understand animal family life and how it is coordinated between family members. It is kind of intriguing that such mechanisms exist in animals and that animal parents synchronize their mating and parental-care behavior for their own benefit and that of the children," said Sandra Steiger, a biologist at the University of Ulm in Germany.

These beetles, also known as Nicrophorus vespilloides, derives their popular name from the way they feed their larvae — by burying the bodies of rodents and birds. The mother covers the carcass with a secretion to discourage rotting, feeding her offspring the regurgitated remains of the prey. The adult also protects the nest from predators, as well as other beetles.

These creatures grow to be slightly less than an inch in length, and exhibit black bodies marked with orange markings. The species is found in North America, Europe and Asia.

For three days following birth, the mother is infertile, allowing the adult insect to spend time caring for her young. It is during this period of time that females send out the newly-recognized pheromone to keep males away.

Mating pairs bond together, but do not stay together for their entire lives.

Pheromones are used as a means of communication between members of a given species. Various signals can carry a wide range of messages. Some of these chemical signals are called sex hormones, but they are most often utilized to signal a willingness to mate.

Humans also utilize pheromones to discourage copulation among insects, a technique known to biologists as mating disruption. This behavior can be effective against in mealybugs, scales and other insects.

Analysis of the use of anti-mating phermones by female beetles was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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