An unprecedented role reversal: Ground beetle larvae (Coleoptera: Carabidae) lure amphibians and prey upon them

Gil Wizen, Avital Gasith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Amphibians often feed on beetle larvae, including those of ground beetles (Carabidae). Preliminary reports have detailed an unusual trophic interaction in which, in contrast, larvae of the ground beetle Epomis prey upon juvenile and adult amphibians. While it is known that these larvae feed exclusively on amphibians, how the predator-prey encounter occurs to the advantage of the beetle larvae had been unknown to date. Using laboratory observations and controlled experiments, we recorded the feeding behavior of Epomis larvae, as well as the behavior of their amphibian prey. Here we reveal that larvae of two species of Epomis (E. circumscriptus and E. dejeani) lure their potential predator, taking advantage of the amphibian's predation behavior. The Epomis larva combines a sit-and-wait strategy with unique movements of its antennae and mandibles to draw the attention of the amphibian to the presence of a potential prey. The intensity of this enticement increases with decreasing distance between the larva and the amphibian. When the amphibian attacks, the larva almost always manages to avoid the predator's protracted tongue, exploiting the opportunity to attach itself to the amphibian's body and initiate feeding. Our findings suggest that the trophic interaction between Epomis larvae and amphibians is one of the only natural cases of obligatory predator-prey role reversal. Moreover, this interaction involves a small insect larva that successfully lures and preys on a larger vertebrate. Such role reversal is exceptional in the animal world, extending our perspective of co-evolution in the arms race between predator and prey, and suggesting that counterattack defense behavior has evolved into predator-prey role reversal.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere25161
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume6
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - 21 Sep 2011

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