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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Systematic Entomology Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #342980

Research Project: Beetle Taxonomy and Systematics Supporting U.S. Agriculture, Arboriculture and Biological Control

Location: Systematic Entomology Laboratory

Title: Hiding in plain sight: leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae: Galerucinae) use feeding damage as a masquerade decoy

item Konstantinov, Alexander - Alex
item PRATHAPAN, K. - Kerala Agricultural University

Submitted to: Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, London
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/16/2017
Publication Date: 1/17/2018
Citation: Konstantinov, A.S., Prathapan, K.D. 2018. Hiding in plain sight: leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae: Galerucinae) use feeding damage as a masquerade decoy. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, London. 123:311-320.

Interpretive Summary: Leaf beetles, especially flea beetles, are among the most important insects for U.S. agriculture. Many are serious pests and feed on crops destroying valuable plants costing millions of dollars annually. Others are important biological control agents that can be used to control unwanted and invasive weeds. This work describes an adaptation shared among most flea beetles, which live and feed on leaf surfaces of various plants that helps flea beetles to avoid predators. The adaptation called masquerade and is previously unknown for flea beetles. This study will be useful to biological control workers, taxonomists, ecologists, and anyone interested in plant feeding beetles.

Technical Abstract: To avoid detection by predators, many herbivorous insects have evolved an astonishing degree of visual fidelity to inanimate items in their surroundings that renders them cryptic to their enemies. In an evolutionary twist to crypsis, known as masquerade, a predator detects prey, but fails to perceive it as such, and instead, regards it as an unprofitable doppelgänger. Protection is gained by not triggering, or, by delaying a predator's attack, thus buying prey time to escape by other means. We report on a unique variation on the masquerade strategy, whereby small (= 5 mm), herbivorous leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae; Galerucinae; Alticini) have recurrently evolved a resemblance to innocuous, unprofitable decoy objects of their own manufacture; their own feeding damage. Intense selection by visually orienting, insectivorous birds has driven masquerading leaf beetles to evolve bodies to more closely resemble their feeding damage and their feeding habits to produce damage that resembles their own bodies.