Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 323–331 | Cite as

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

  • Tristram D. Wyatt


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.


Maternal Care Intertidal Habitat Narrow Neck Surface Tension Effect Neck Diameter 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Anon (1978) Information about electrical electronic materials, Sylgard 182 and 184 silicone elastomers. Dow Corning, Reading. Tech Bull 61-113A-01Google Scholar
  2. Armstrong W (1979) Aeration in higher plants. Adv Bot Res 7:226–332Google Scholar
  3. Beeftink WG (1977) The coastal marshes of Western and Northern Europe: an ecological and phytosociological approach. In: Chapman VJ (ed) Wet coastal ecosystems. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 109–156Google Scholar
  4. Bretherton FP (1961) The motion of long bubbles in tubes. J Fluid Mech 10:166–188Google Scholar
  5. Chapman VJ (1960) The plant ecology of Scolt Head Island. In: Steers JA (ed) Scolt Head Island. 2nd edn. Heffers, Cambridge, pp 85–163Google Scholar
  6. Christy JH (1982) Burrow structure and use in the sand fiddler crab, Uca pugilator (Bosc.). Anim Behav 30:687–694Google Scholar
  7. Christy JH (1983) Female choice in the resource-defense mating system of the sand fiddler crab, Uca pugilator. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 12:169–180Google Scholar
  8. Clarke ROS (1973) Coleoptera: Heteroceridae. Handbooks for the Identification of British Insects. R Entomol Soc, Lond v 2 (c)Google Scholar
  9. Eickwort GC (1981) Presocial insects. In: Hermann HR (ed) Social insects, vol 2. Academic Press, New York, pp 191–280Google Scholar
  10. Ellington CP (1984) The aerodynamics of hovering insect flight. III Kinematics. Philos Trans R Soc London [B] 305:41–78Google Scholar
  11. Evans HE (1977) Extrinsic and intrinsic factors in the evolution of insect sociality. Bio Sci 27:613–617Google Scholar
  12. Evans PD, Ruscoe CNE, Treherne JE (1971) Observations on the biology and submergence behaviour of some littoral beetles. J Mar Biol Assoc UK 51:375–386Google Scholar
  13. Foster WA, Treherne JE (1975) The distribution of an intertidal aphid, Pemphigus trehernei Foster, on marine saltmarshes. Oecologia 21:141–155Google Scholar
  14. Foster WA, Treherne JE (1976) The effects of tidal submergence on an intertidal aphid, Pemphigus trehernei Foster. J Anim Ecol 45:291–301Google Scholar
  15. Foster WA, Treherne JE (1978) Dispersal mechanisms in an intertidal aphid. J Anim Ecol 47:205–217Google Scholar
  16. Foster WA, Wyatt TD (1985) Recent research on the ecology of saltmarsh insects in the United Kingdom. Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft für Ökologie (Bremen 1983) Band XIII 1985:81–84Google Scholar
  17. Hargrave BT (1969) Similarity of oxygen uptake by benthic communities. Limnol Oceanogr 14:807–809Google Scholar
  18. Kensler CB (1964) The crevice habitat on Anglesey. J Anim Ecol 33:200–202Google Scholar
  19. Larsen EB (1936) Biologische Studien über die tunnelgrabenden Käfer auf Skallingen. Vidansk Meed Fra Dansk Naturh Foren Kobenhavn 100:1–232Google Scholar
  20. Larsen EB (1952) On sub-social beetles from the saltmarsh, their care of progeny and adaptation to salt and tide. Trans Ninth Int Cong Ent, vol 1:502–506Google Scholar
  21. Staddon BW (1972) On the suggestion that the secretion from the metathoracic glands of a surface-dwelling aquatic insect, Gerris naja (De Geer), (Heteroptera: Gerridae) has a waterproofing function. J Exp Biol 57:765–769Google Scholar
  22. Tallamy DW, Denno RF (1981) Maternal care in Gargaphia solani (Hemiptera: Tingidae). Anim Behav 29:771–778Google Scholar
  23. Teal JM (1959) Respiration of crabs in Georgia saltmarshes and its relation to their ecology. Physiol Zool 32:1–14Google Scholar
  24. Teal JM, Kanwisher J (1961) Gas exchange in a Georgia saltmarsh. Limnol Oceanogr 6:388–399Google Scholar
  25. Vogel S (1981) Behavior and the physical world of an animal. In: Bateson PPG, Klopfer PM (eds) Perspectives in Ethology, vol 4, Plenum, New York, pp 179–198Google Scholar
  26. Wilson EO (1971) The insect societies. Belknap Press, Cambridge, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar
  27. Wilson EO (1975) Sociobiology—the new synthesis. Belknap Press, Cambridge, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar
  28. Van Wingerden WKRE, Littel A, Boomsma JJ (1981) Strategies and population dynamics of arthropod species from coastal plains and green beaches. In: Smit CJ, Den Hollander J, van Wingerden WKRE, Wolff WJ (eds) Final Report of the section ‘Terrestrial Fauna’ of the Wadden Sea Working Group 10, Steun aan Waddenonderzoek, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  29. Withers PC (1978) Models of diffusion-mediated gas exchange in animal burrows. Am Nat 112:1101–1112Google Scholar
  30. Wyatt TD (1984) The ecology of parental care in the subsocial saltmarsh beetle, Bledius spectabilis. Ph D Thesis. University of CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  31. Yensen N, Yensen E, Yensen D (1980) Intertidal ants from the Gulf of California, Mexico. Ann Entomol Soc Am 73:266–269Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tristram D. Wyatt
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations