Burying Beetle Mom: Conscientious Cannibal?
Mother's Day honors the bond between mom and child, but many animal mothers are more Mommie Dearest than Mom of the Year--at least at first glance. Take the burying beetle ...
She's a "bad" mom because ...
she eats her young in a deadly game of musical chairs.
Burying beetle larvae typically move into a mouse carcass their mother and father have buried. The mother feeds her young by eating the carcass and regurgitating the mouse meat.
"The little larvae wave back and forth, begging to mom," said Scott Forbes, University of Winnipeg biologist and author of A Natural History of Families.
"The first ones get fed, but the very last one sitting there begging [after the portion runs out] gets eaten by the mother."
Give Mom a break, because ...
burying beetle mothers are likely culling their brood to match the food supply. The beetles typically produce broods bigger than the carcass can support. A bit of strategic cannibalism boosts overall survival chances for the larvae left "standing" when the music stops.
Photograph by Gary Meszaros/Visuals Unlimited