Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 323–331

How a subsocial intertidal beetle, Bledius spectabilis, prevents flooding and anoxia in its burrow

  • Tristram D. Wyatt
Article

Summary

All stages of Bledius spectabilis Kratz (Staphylinidae) dig wine-bottle shaped burrows in the intertidal Salicornia zone. The adult female lays her eggs around her burrow and, by remaining with them, prevents both flooding by the tide and anoxia. Flooding is prevented by an ‘ever-ready’ burrow which exploits a surface tension effect and by blocking the burrow once the tide comes in. The burrow has a narrow neck (about 2 mm in diameter) leading to a living chamber 5 mm in diameter. Tides over artificial tubes in agar showed that a critical minimum neck diameter of 2–3 mm prevented sudden flooding, giving time to block the neck with mud. Blocking took about four minutes. Ensuring the burrow is reopened at each low tide is a vital role of the brooding female in anaerobic or impermeable soils. Field models of burrows became anoxic in 4 days, much less than the 4 week long egg stage. A lab model system with anaerobic agar and calculations of oxygen uptake and diffusion supported this conclusion. Mortality of orphaned larvae may be much lower, however, in burrows within large Bledius aggregations because of mitigating good drainage and soil aeration: larval mortality from physical causes in these burrows did not increase over 3 weeks but without the mother, 14% of the eggs were attacked by mould, and two burrows were taken over by a predatory carabid, Dichierotrichus gustavi, and all larvae eaten. The surface tension effects of small air-filled openings may be used by small air-breathing animals in many intertidal habitats. Like Bledius, other intertidal animals, including large ones, may block their burrows at high tide to keep them full of air. Maternal care, in particular the combination of behaviours which protect the brood from the tide and anoxia, enables this airbreathing insect to colonise the inhospitable habitat of the intertidal saltmarsh.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tristram D. Wyatt
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Cleppa Park Field Research StationUniversity CollegeCardiffUK

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