I have always been fascinated my nature and science, so I knew coming into college that I wanted to participate in research. After taking an entomology class my first semester at UF I knew I wanted to work with insects, so I began looking for any opportunity to step foot into a lab.
Feeding Behavior of Juvenile Leaf-footed bugs: Attraction to Absent Adults
Kaylin Kleckner, Sara Zlotnik, Christine W. Miller
Juvenile animals are often less adept at feeding independently compared to their adult counterparts. To obtain critical nutrients, juveniles may use behavioral strategies that make up for morphological limitations, but such strategies are not well understood. We hypothesized that juveniles prefer food sources on which an adult has previously fed because prior feeding damage may make nutrients more accessible. We tested this hypothesis in leaf-footed cactus bugs, Narnia femorata (Hemiptera: Coreidae). These insects feed on cactus fruit, but juveniles are less efficient due to their shorter mouthparts. In our behavioral experiments, juvenile N. femorata chose between two fruits: one had been fed on by an adult for one week, while the other had experienced no adult contact within the preceding six weeks. As predicted, juvenile insects preferred to stand and feed on the adult-fed fruit over the control fruit. This preference was maintained over a three-day period. Our results suggest that juvenile N. femorata maximize nutrient intake by utilizing the feeding holes created by adults or by using adult cues to identify reliable food sources. This study provides insight into behavioral strategies used by juvenile animals to maximize survival in harsh environments.