Evidence for division of labor in the social caterpillar Eucheira socialis (Lepidoptera: Pieridae)
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The caterpillars of Eucheira socialis westwoodi cooperatively spin and maintain a hollow silken nest and an elaborate network of silken foraging trails on their host plant, madrone (Arbutus spp.: Ericaceae). Nests typically contain several hundred larvae. Two populations are known to harbor a sex ratio distorter. The primary sex ratio in these two populations for four generations has been exceedingly male biased (64–79% male). Lepidoptera larvae are easily sexed using external morphology, allowing us to uniquely mark male and female larvae and to assemble larval groups of particular sex ratios. We report here the results of experiments on sex-specific larval behavior and physiology and the effect of colony sex ratio on individual behavior. We found that male larvae spent more time spinning silk on the nest and less time feeding than female larvae. Males were the first to emerge from the nest and the first to venture out along trails to feed. Male-biased nests had a significantly greater amount of silk deposited on their surfaces than female-biased nests. In the field, male-biased nests produced heavier male and female pupae than female-biased nests. Male and female larvae in 75% male nests became active earlier than males and females in other sex ratio treatments.
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