Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 65, Issue 8, pp 1573–1579 | Cite as

Group leadership depends on energetic state in a nomadic collective foraging caterpillar

Original Paper


Group living is a common strategy among animals and has arisen independently in over 300 species of Lepidoptera. Yet, activity synchrony between individuals is necessary to derive the benefits that ensue from an aggregated lifestyle. Which individuals decide which activities to perform and when to perform them is, therefore, a fundamental question. In some species of social caterpillars and sawflies, the role of a potential behavioral polyethism between individuals has been suggested, whereby certain individuals are consistently more likely to initiate and lead a foraging event. However, in these cases, evidence in support of division of labor is lacking. This study was undertaken to determine if certain individuals of Malacosoma disstria are more likely to be consistent group leaders or if transient leaders could be predicted by the differences in energetic states between individuals. The results of this study indicate that unfed caterpillars initiate foraging bouts and are more likely to lead locomotion. There was no size or sex-based bias in those individuals that acted as temporary leaders. Consistent behavioral differences between individuals, if they exist, are therefore not necessary to explain task allocation and synchronization during foraging in this species.


Group behavior Foraging Forest tent caterpillar Sociality Malacosoma disstria Synchrony 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biology DepartmentConcordia UniversityMontrealCanada

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