Tag Archives: E.O. Wilson

Fear the dookie-armored beetle

I once heard famed sociobiologist and Harvard professor E.O. Wilson say something to the effect of “I don’t know if God is responsible for life on earth, but if He is, He sure loves beetles.”

That was Wilson’s way of pointing out the remarkable diversity of the world’s beetles, about 300,000 of which we’ve classified and another probably 200,000 of which we haven’t. Compare that to humans, who come in three basic types — those who can do math and those who can’t (rimshot BAM!).

dookie_beetleAnyway, the world is apparently so full of beetles that at least one variety was bound to cover itself in its own shit — if only to get a little attention for once. Say eewww to the case-bearing leaf beetle, which builds a protective suit of dookie armor around its eggs:

“Specifically, they compress fragments of their feces into flat squarish plates using structures in their abdomen that are part of their genitalia,” said researcher Daniel Funk, an evolutionary ecologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “These plates are then added individually around the laid egg to form the egg case.”

When the eggs hatch, the larvae cut off the roof of these cases, poking only their heads and legs out in order to move and feed. They never leave these cases when they are young, instead adding their own excrement to enlarge them and accommodate their growth. After they reach maturity, the adult beetles cut themselves free of their cases with their mandibles.

“Ta da!” they say.

The purpose of the dookie armor is to protect the young beetles from crickets and other predators, who often ignore what appear to be discarded turds when searching for food. Even if they do discover beetles inside the turds, the scientists say the predators often pause before attacking — unsure of how to attack a clump of shit with food inside.

The lesson here is the same as always — if you want to protect your children, build an impenetrable wall of crap around them.

Bug Wears Armor Made of Poo [LiveScience]


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