The super mum living in your eucalyptus tree

The super mum living in your eucalyptus tree

An Aussie beetle’s social life supports a link between monogamy and complex societies.

This species of ambrosia beetle lives in eucalyptus trees

A female ambrosia beetle (Austroplatypus incompertus) mates with one male, founds a colony in tunnels she excavates deep within a eucalyptus tree, and then lays eggs for 30 to 40 years.

When her first batch of eggs are born some of her daughters commit to a lifetime of helping her maintain her colony while the others fly away to find a mate and start their own colonies.

But for both the queen and her worker daughters, living within tunnels comes at the cost of mobility, as they lose their claws and some further leg segments. While still able to move around inside their home, they are unable to leave, and in the case of workers, unable to ever mate.

This is just part of the complex social and sex lives of ambrosia beetles reported by researchers from Macquarie University and Western Sydney University in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

“We know that bees, ants and termites have castes, with particular roles they might carry out for life,” says Shannon Smith, Honorary Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Biological Sciences, Visiting Fellow at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University, and first author of the study.

“In the most extreme case, we see individuals give up the chance to reproduce to serve the colony.

“This is the first time we’ve described the details of this advanced form of sociality in a beetle, despite there being close to 400,000 species of beetles in the world.”

Find out more.

Photos courtesy of Shannon Smith and Deborah Kent.

Published 27 April 2018.

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