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Defensive responses by a social caterpillar are tailored to different predators and change with larval instar and group size

Title:

Defensive responses by a social caterpillar are tailored to different predators and change with larval instar and group size

McClure, Melanie and Despland, Emma (2011) Defensive responses by a social caterpillar are tailored to different predators and change with larval instar and group size. Naturwissenschaften, 98 (5). pp. 425-434. ISSN 0028-1042

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00114-011-0788-x

Abstract

Gregariousness in animals is widely accepted as a behavioral adaptation for protection from predation. However, predation risk and the effectiveness of a prey’s defense can be a function of several other factors, including predator species and prey size or age. The objective of this study was to determine if the gregarious habit of Malacosoma disstria caterpillars is advantageous against invertebrate natural enemies, and whether it is through dilution or cooperative defenses. We also examined the effects of larval growth and group size on the rate and success of attacks. Caterpillars of M. disstria responded with predator-specific behaviors, which led to increased survival. Evasive behaviors were used against stinkbugs, while thrashing by fourth instar caterpillars and holding on to the silk mat by second instar caterpillars was most efficient against spider attacks. Collective head flicking and biting by groups of both second and fourth instar caterpillars were observed when attacked by parasitoids. Increased larval size decreased the average number of attacks by spiders but increased the number of attacks by both stinkbugs and parasitoids. However, increased body size decreased the success rate of attacks by all three natural enemies and increased handling time for both predators. Larger group sizes did not influence the number of attacks from predators but increased the number of attacks and the number of successful attacks from parasitoids. In all cases, individual risk was lower in larger groups. Caterpillars showed collective defenses against parasitoids but not against the walking predators. These results show that caterpillars use different tactics against different natural enemies. Overall, these tactics are both more diverse and more effective in fourth instar than in second instar caterpillars, confirming that growth reduces predation risk. We also show that grouping benefits caterpillars through dilution of risk, and, in the case of parasitoids, through group defenses. The decreased tendency to aggregate in the last larval instar may therefore be linked to decreasing predation risk.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Biology
Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Authors:McClure, Melanie and Despland, Emma
Journal or Publication:Naturwissenschaften
Date:May 2011
Keywords:Antipredator – Group behavior – Predation – Malacosoma disstria – Prey–predator interactions
ID Code:7365
Deposited By:DANIELLE DENNIE
Deposited On:20 Apr 2011 15:12
Last Modified:20 Apr 2011 15:12
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