Potato beetle cannibalism may help protect crops

Colorado potato beetles can decimate spud crops by devouring the plants’ foliage. Researchers at the University of Maine (UMaine) have found cannibalism may slow down the devastation of Colorado potato beetles on potato crops. University of Maine scientists Everett Booth, Andrei Alyokhin and Sarah Pinatti observed that in a laboratory, Colorado potato beetles faced with starvation, crowding and no opportunity to disperse ate beetle eggs, young beetles, injured beetles and other adults, particularly those who had just molted and were soft. Alyokhin, an entomologist and director of the School of Biology and Ecology, said even when Colorado potato beetles were given a choice between other adult beetles and mealworms, they ate their own species. The cannibalistic behavior might decrease in fields, though, as beetles facing difficult circumstances could disperse, he says. During periods of limited food availability, Alyokhin said engaging in cannibalism is a “lifeboat strategy” — it prolongs survival and prevents population extinctions. More