A dung beetle that prefers ants

Here’s something I did not know. Some South American dung beetles have given up their usual fecal diet to prey actively on ant queens:

Canthon virens attacking a leafcutter ant queen. Adapted from Forti et al 2012, figure 2, and used under a Creative Commons license.

I can’t say I blame them.

Luiz Forti reports in a recent issue of Psyche:

Canthon virens exhibited 28 behaviors while predating upon Atta sp. queens. Adult beetles search for queens while flying in a zigzag pattern, 15 to 20 cm above the ground. After catching a queen, the predator stands on its back and starts cutting the queen cervix. Once the prey is decapitated, the predator rolls it until an insurmountable obstacle is reached. The distance from the site of predation to the obstacle can vary widely and is unpredictable. The beetle rolling the queen also buries it in a very peculiar way: first, it digs a small hole and pulls the queen inside, while another beetle is attached to the prey. The burial process takes many hours (up to 12) and may depend on the hardness of the soil and the presence of obstacles. In general, one or two beetles are found in a chamber with the queen after it is buried. They make the brood balls, which serve as food for the offspring.

source: Luiz Carlos Forti, Isabela Maria Piovesan Rinaldi, Roberto da Silva Camargo, and Ricardo Toshio Fujihara. 2012. Predatory Behavior of Canthon virens (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae): A Predator of Leafcutter AntsPsyche, vol. 2012, Article ID 921465. doi:10.1155/2012/921465

7 thoughts on “A dung beetle that prefers ants”

  1. Dung beetles are resourceful!

    I learned about these ant-eating ones while reading the dung beetle bible [Halffter & Edmonds 1982: The nesting behavior of dung beetles (Scarabaeinae). An ecological and evolutive approach] during my Master’s work on scarabaeines.

    Also notable:
    – Deltochilum valgum also kills live prey, but specializes on millipedes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deltochilum_valgum
    – Cephalodesmius collects leaves and composts them underground into a pseudo-dung for their young
    – Eucraniini live in arid parts of SA where they run around searching for dung which they hold with their front legs and head, running only on their hind four legs, ala: http://beloutte.deviantart.com/art/the-dung-beetle-13926976
    – Onthophagus parvus hangs out on the perianal area of wallabies in Australia (using specialized claws) and grabs dung pellets as they are excreted

  2. Imagine if burying beetles suddenly decided that instead of pairing off to find mouse corpses, it would just be easier to form packs, capture a live mouse, and decapitate it themselves. Yeesh

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  4. Hoooo-boy. I thought ‘well, yeah, I guess that a big ball of meat with a little shell around it is a WAY better source of babynoms than a ball of poo.’

    Then I thought ‘really, ANY critter that can have round bits cut out of them or can be cemented together would be better than a ball of poo.’

    Then I read the article about the millipedes, and realized now we have ‘anything that can be dragged into a dark corner to be devoured, screw the babies’ to add to the list of better targets.

    I never knew that dung beetles could murder things.

    Nature blows my mind, but I fear there is some undiscovered species of dung beetle that’s going to haunt our nightmares once we find out what it does.

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