Mothers modify eggs into shields to protect offspring from parasitism

Joseph B. Deas, Martha S. Hunter

Abstract

Eggs are an immobile, vulnerable stage of development and their success often depends on the oviposition decisions of the mother. Studies show that female animals, and sometimes males, may invest parental resources in order to increase the survival of their offspring. Here, we describe a unique form of parental investment in offspring survival. The seed beetle Mimosestes amicus may lay eggs singly, or may cover eggs with additional egg(s). This egg stacking serves to significantly reduce the mortality of the protected egg from parasitism by the parasitic wasp, Uscana semifumipennis. The smaller top eggs serve only as protective shields; they are inviable, and wasps that develop in them suffer negative fitness consequences. Further, we found egg stacking to be inducible; M. amicus increase the number of stacks they lay when parasitoids are present. However, stacking invokes a cost. When wasps are absent, beetles lay more single eggs, and produce more offspring, highlighting the adaptive value of this extraordinary example of behavioural plasticity in parental investment.

  • Received July 27, 2011.
  • Accepted August 22, 2011.
View Full Text