Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 58, Issue 6, pp 578–586 | Cite as

Ladybird mothers mitigate offspring starvation risk by laying trophic eggs

  • Jennifer C. PerryEmail author
  • Bernard D. Roitberg
Original Article


A large proportion of ladybird beetle (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) eggs are apparently infertile—they do not develop an embryo and are consumed by larvae hatching within the egg batch. The predicted benefits of egg consumption for larvae are empirically well supported. An important question, however, remains: are these eggs a maternal strategy to feed offspring (i.e., trophic eggs) or did egg eating evolve to exploit unavoidably infertile eggs? We investigated the adaptive value of infertile eggs in laboratory experiments with multicoloured Asian ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis). Female H. axyridis were assigned to low and high resource environments for brief intervals; we predicted that tactics to facilitate egg cannibalism, such as infertile egg production and hatching asynchrony, would be adopted in low food environments in which starvation risk for offspring is greater. We conducted two experiments in this manner that provided females with information about resource levels through prey feeding or scent. We also observed female oviposition patterns and tested for infertile egg distributions that departed from random. Females produced 56% more infertile eggs in the low vs. the high food treatment; however, hatching synchrony did not change. We consider a potential confound between information and nutrition state unlikely because ladybirds are well able to tolerate low food for 24 h, the duration of trials, and because females were in good condition when trials began. Results suggest that ladybirds use information from prey encounter to manipulate the proportion of trophic eggs in a manner consistent with the adaptive hypothesis, the first evidence of trophic egg plasticity in a non-eusocial insect.


Coccinellidae Harmonia axyridis Hatching synchrony Sibling cannibalism Trophic eggs 



We are grateful to Carl Schwarz and Jabus Tyerman for assistance with data analysis, and to Nick Charrette, Beth Ann Nyboer, and Eva Poon for assistance in the lab. We thank Jay Biernaskie, Felix Breden, Bernie Crespi, Dov Lank, the Roitberg lab group, and members of the Behavioral Ecology Research Group for discussion. Brian Ma, Douglas Mock, and two anonymous reviewers provided very helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. This study was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council to JCP and BDR and graduate support from Simon Fraser University to JCP. The experiments and insect maintenance complied with Canadian law


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Behavioural Ecology Research Group, Department of Biological SciencesSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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