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Heat production in a feeding matrix formed on carrion by communally breeding beetles
Frontiers in Zoology  (IF3.172),  Pub Date : 2021-02-02, DOI: 10.1186/s12983-020-00385-7
Szymon Matuszewski, Anna Mądra-Bielewicz

Insects regulate their body temperature mostly behaviourally, by changing posture or microhabitat. Usually they use heat that is already present in the environment. Sometimes, however, they may manipulate the environment to affect, focus or benefit from thermogenesis. Carrion beetles create a feeding matrix by applying to cadaver surface anal or oral exudates. We tested the hypothesis that the matrix, which is formed on carrion by communally breeding beetle Necrodes littoralis L. (Silphidae), produces heat that enhances insect fitness. Using thermal imaging we demonstrate that heat produced in the matrix formed on meat by adult or larval beetles is larger than in meat decomposing without insects. Larval beetles regularly warmed up in the matrix. Moreover, by comparing matrix temperature and larval fitness in colonies with and without preparation of meat by adult beetles, we provide evidence that formation of the matrix by adult beetles has deferred thermal effects for larval microhabitat. We found an increase in heat production of the matrix and a decrease in development time and mortality of larvae after adult beetles applied their exudates on meat in the pre-larval phase. Our findings indicate that spreading of exudates over carrion by Necrodes larvae, apart from other likely functions (e.g. digesting carrion or promoting growth of beneficial microbes), facilitates thermoregulation. In case of adult beetles, this behaviour brings distinct thermal benefits for their offspring and therefore may be viewed as a new form of indirect parental care with an important thermal component.