The mating habits of beetles is probably not something most people find interest in or even are aware of, but a new study not only sheds light on the process that beetles use to guarantee the future of their species, but also how certain beetles feel less secure about their ability to do so.
The study, done by the University of Exeter, studied burying beetles, which have large antennae that detect dead animals, such as mice, from long distances. Beetles will fight over these carcasses and then later use them as a breeding ground, burying the carcass to hide it from competitor beetles.
The study looked at the mating habits of burying beetles. After male beetles of this species find a carcass, they send out pheromones that attract female beetles. However, other male beetles also find themselves attracted, which leads to competition for the females.
Females are generally attracted, though, to those beetles in the group which are larger, and procreate with those. The dominant male and female beetles basically become the leaders of the beetle society and use the carcass for reproducing and raising their children.
However, those other male beetles tend to become more promiscuous and mate with the other females not chosen by the dominant male. This is how those beetles guarantee their survival through reproduction. Females lay their eggs near the carcass while those males continue to mate with other female beetles. However, researchers found that after the males end up in a situation where they don't know which baby beetles are actually theirs because they've mated with so many females, they become insecure.
"What is really fascinating is that this social sensitivity has evolved in response to selection on mating behaviour: males that have more sex really are more insecure about their social status," says Dr. Nick Royle of the Center for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter. "Our results therefore provide valuable insights as to how behavioural plasticity evolves."
Basically researchers learned that beetles that mate at high rates feel more insecure about their ability to reproduce and guarantee their family line.
"Such flexibility of behaviour in response to a change in social context is a common, but relatively poorly understood, feature of organisms," says Dr. Mauricio Carter of the University of Exeter. "Plasticity of behaviour is important because it allows organisms to respond rapidly to changes, increasing the persistence of populations in the face of environmental fluctuations. Our research increases our understanding of this important process that helps organisms adapt to changes in their environment."