Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 157, Issue 4, pp 1123–1125 | Cite as

On Otis tarda and Marquis de Sade: what motivates male Great Bustards to consume Blister Beetles (Meloidae)?

  • Petr HenebergEmail author
Short Communication


Blister Beetles (Meloidae), invertebrates that can synthesize high doses of the protein phosphatase inhibitor cantharidin, are ingested preferentially by male Great Bustards (Otis tarda) during their mating season. Previous authors hypothesized that the bustards benefit from antihelminthic and antimicrobial properties of cantharidin. However, given that the ingestion of Blister Beetles is performed particularly in mating season, it may be that the cantharidin has more important direct effects on male behavior, possibly by increasing sexual arousal of males. Thus, we propose that cantharidin consumption by male Great Bustards is a form of self-medication to increase courtship display, willingness to participate in pre-breeding male–male competitions at leks, display intensity, and mating success.


Aphrodisiac Cantharidin Courtship display Protein phosphatase inhibitors Sexual selection Spanish fly 


Von Otis tarda und der Marquis de Sade: was bringt Großtrappen dazu, Ölkäfer (Meloidae) zu fressen?

Ölkäfer (Meloidae), die hohe Dosen des Proteinphosphatase-Inhibitors Cantharidin synthetisieren, werden bevorzugt von Großtrappen (Otis tarda) während ihrer Balzzeit gefressen. Frühere Autoren stellten die Hypothese auf, die Großtrappen profitierten von den antihelminthischen und antimikrobiellen Eigenschaften des Cantharidins. Aber die Tatsache, dass die Ölkäfer speziell während der Balzzeit gefressen werden, könnte darauf hinweisen, dass das Cantharidin noch andere, wichtige direkte Auswirkungen auf das Verhalten der Männchen hat: eine mögliche Steigerung ihrer sexuellen Erregung. Wir nehmen daher an, dass die vermehrte Aufnahme von Ölkäfern durch Großtrappen-Männchen eine Art „Selbstmedikation“ zur Steigerung ihrer Balzaktivitäten ist, ihrer Bereitschaft zu Konkurrenzkämpfen mit anderen Männchen an den Balzstätten und der Intensität ihrer Balz und so letztlich des Paarungserfolgs.



The study was supported by the project PRVOUK P31/2012 from the Charles University in Prague.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Charles University in Prague, Third Faculty of MedicinePragueCzech Republic

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