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Home / Health / Stick insects have a very strange educational strategy: the world eats their young alive

Stick insects have a very strange educational strategy: the world eats their young alive



It's hard to be an attentive parent when your entire life strategy is based on looking and behaving like a lifeless object.

But members of the Order Phasmatodea – better known as stick insects because of their similarity to foliage branches and dried twigs – try their best.

To protect their eggs from predators, some females place them in hard-to-reach areas, such as the undersides of leaves. Others rely on the help of ants to attach an irresistibly nutrient-rich button called capitulum to the ends of their eggs. The unsuspecting ants will carry an egg into their subterranean nest, eat the capitulum and throw the rest of the egg into their garbage zone where it can safely hatch predators. In a few months, the Junglepind insect will crawl out into the open, its unintended hosts are no wiser.

These animals may even have included an educational pointer from the plants they emulate. A study published Monday in the journal Ecology found that some canine insect eggs can successfully hatch after traversing the digestive tract of a bird, much like plant seeds.

It is possible to argue that insects use this strategy to spread their offspring far and wide and mimic how motionless plants rely on animals to disperse their seeds through food and excretion.

"Given that insects move slowly and are often unable to fly," said lead author Kenji Suetsugu, a biologist at Kobe University in Japan, "the benefits of long-distance dispersal by bird hunting should not be underestimated."


An illustration of the proposed mechanism for the spread of stick insects. Birds could help low-mobility insects expand their habitats. (Kobe University)

Suetsugu has long been fascinated by the striking similarities between stick insect eggs and plant seeds. The eggs are enclosed in hard, hard bowls. Their size, shape and color may be similar to those of acorns, corn kernels and other seeds. Often the eggs are also coated with a protective substance called calcium oxalate (the main constituent of kidney stones) which does not dissolve in acidic conditions. Could these traits protect an egg when it passes through the gut of a bird?

Results from previous studies were not promising; A 2011 study found that only 1 out of 1 000 eggs fed chickens and quails could be recovered from bird droppings.

In 2015, Suetsugu and his colleagues attempted to brown 145 eggs of three stick insects Bülbige, an ordinary bird in Japan. A few hours later they began to examine the feces of the birds.

Between 5 and 10 percent of the eggs survived the digestion without obvious damage. But none of them hatched. Two years later, the intrepid researchers once again tried to offer 70 eggs of the kind Ramulus irregulariterdentatus for Bülbüls as a snack.

This time 14 of the eggs were unharmed and two of these finally hatched healthy infant insects.

A two-in-70 survival does not seem to be very promising. But given the limited prevalence of rod insects, even occasional success could "profoundly affect the distribution, gene flow, and composition of the community," Suetsugu said.

He also noted that female rodents are capable of parthenogenesis, cloning that produces offspring without the involvement of a male. A pregnant woman could possibly be eaten and still pass on her genes if her eggs had remained intact.

The next step for Suetsugu is to study the genealogical trees – or genealogical trees – of rodent insects and compare them to bird migration routes

"If the spread of birds is important for sticking insects, the phylogeographic patterns should be random Remote dispersal events, "he said.

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