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Earwig mothers consume the feces of their juveniles during family life

Abstract : Many animals consume the feces of their conspecifics. This allo-coprophagy can have benefits, such as access to nutrients and symbionts, but also risks for consumers, mainly due to direct contact with pathogens that develop on feces. In the European earwig Forficula auricularia, mothers and juveniles live in nests lined with their feces. This surprising habit allows juveniles to consume the feces of their siblings during family life and provides them with nutritional benefits when mothers provide low care. However, it was unclear whether earwig mothers also practice allo-coprophagy, and whether this behaviour is motivated by their nutritional needs. Here, we set up four types of experimental families in which we manipulated the nutritional needs of mothers and/or juveniles and measured the effects on the production of feces by the juveniles, and the consumption of these feces by the mothers. Our results first show that fed juveniles produced more feces pellet in presence of fed compared to food-deprived mothers. We also found that, overall, about 50% of the mothers consumed juveniles feces. This consumption was both more likely and larger when the feces were produced by fed compared to food-deprived juveniles, while the proportion of feces pellets eaten was larger in fooddeprived compared to fed mothers. Overall, our results reveal that allo-coprophagy involves every family member and suggest that it can have both nutritional and non-nutritional benefits for earwig mothers. Allo-coprophagy could thus favour the maintenance of mothers in the nest and, more generally, promote the early evolution of family life.
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Contributor : Joël Meunier Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Tuesday, July 13, 2021 - 9:19:58 AM
Last modification on : Thursday, March 31, 2022 - 1:00:58 PM
Long-term archiving on: : Thursday, October 14, 2021 - 6:14:05 PM


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Sophie van Meyel, Séverine Devers, Joël Meunier. Earwig mothers consume the feces of their juveniles during family life. Insect Science, Wiley, 2022, 29 (2), pp.595-602. ⟨10.1111/1744-7917.12941⟩. ⟨hal-03285027⟩



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