Social Feeding and its Impacts on Mouthpart Development

Kayli Sieber

Authors:  Kayli R. Sieber, Sara Zlotnik, Christine W. Miller

Faculty Mentor:  Christine W. Miller

College:  College of Agricultural and Life Sciences


Juvenile animals are often less successful in acquiring nutrition than adults as their feeding traits are still developing. Furthermore, in most animal species, adults do not provide food to their offspring, and therefore, juveniles must compete with adults for food. Developmental plasticity in feeding traits may be an important adaptation promoting juvenile survival in competitive environments, but social impacts on feeding morphology have rarely been investigated. Here we examine how adult presence affects morphological development in the leaf-footed cactus bug Narnia femorata (Hemiptera: Coreidae). Juveniles of this species are limited in their feeding potential as their piercing-sucking mouthparts are shorter than those of adults, but whether feeding near adults can impact their developing mouthparts is unknown. To investigate this, we raised juveniles in groups containing either an unrelated adult or no adult. Juveniles reared with an adult nearby developed longer mouthparts relative to their body size than those raised without adults. This suggests that plasticity in mouthpart length is a potential adaptation that juveniles use to compete effectively with larger adults. Our study aids in our understanding of animal development and the strategies used by juvenile animals to overcome environmental challenges.

Poster Pitch

Click the video below to view the student's poster pitch.


Click the image to enlarge.
9 Responses
  1. Caroline Miller

    Hi Kayli,

    First, this was an excellent presentation and I really like your poster! I think the results of your research are particularly interesting as there was no effect on body size. However, upon further examination, the trait that is directly affected by the introduction of an adult is the rostrum length, which as you mention is a more plastic trait when compared to body size. I think it’s intriguing how social feeding induces some “healthy” competition for juveniles, as the longer rostrum lengths most certainly (I would think) assist and/or be advantageous for juveniles throughout their life (compared to having a shorter one). Your research really got me thinking! Great job!

  2. Sara Zlotnik

    Hi Kayli, that was a great presentation video! It was super clear and concise and very well explained!