Original Paper

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 65, Issue 8, pp 1605-1613

First online:

Three beetles—three concepts. Different defensive strategies of congeneric myrmecophilous beetles

  • Michael StoefflerAffiliated withInstitut für Zoologie, Universität Hohenheim Email author 
  • , Till TolaschAffiliated withInstitut für Zoologie, Universität Hohenheim
  • , Johannes L. M. SteidleAffiliated withInstitut für Zoologie, Universität Hohenheim

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Myrmecophiles, i.e., organisms associated with ants live in a variety of ecological niches in the vicinity or inside ant colonies and employ different strategies to survive ant encounters. Because different niches are characterized by different encounter rates with host ants, strategies used to avoid ant aggressions should depend on these niches. This hypothesis was studied with three rove beetle species of the genus Pella, which are myrmecophiles of the ant Lasius fuliginosus and the non-myrmecophilous relative Drusilla canaliculata. Behavioral tests in the field revealed that Pella species are better adapted to interactions with ants than D. canaliculata, but that they use species-specific strategies in ant interactions. Pella cognata and Pella funesta avoid encounters with ants by swift movements. Chemical analyses of the defensive tergal gland secretions showed that P. cognata has replaced the aggression inducing undecane by the behaviorally neutral tridecane. P. funesta repels the ants by releasing the panic alarm pheromone sulcatone from its tergal gland resulting in an “ant free space” around the beetles. Finally, Pella laticollis uses a specific and unique appeasing behavior. Behavioral and chemical data did not reveal any indication for the mimicry of the ants' cuticular hydrocarbon profiles by any of the beetle species. It is discussed that the employed strategies correlate with the ecological niches of the beetles. P. cognata and P. funesta are living along ant trails with ample space to escape and the employed strategies are probably sufficient to escape from dangerous conflicts. In contrast, P. laticollis lives in refuse areas of ant nests with frequent ant encounters, and its appeasement strategy allows it to stay at the encounter site.


Coleoptera Staphylinidae Pella Zyras Drusilla canaliculata Lasius fuliginosus Myrmecophily Chemical mimicry Appeasement behavior