Multifaceted Chrysomelidae (Leaf Beetles)
Primary researcher: Caroline Chaboo, curator, entomology
From maternal care of eggs to recycling fecal material to unique relationships with host plants, the beetle family of Chrysomelidae (leaf beetles) have provided a rich source of evolutionary research for scientists. The leaf beetle family is one of the largest families known, with more than 40,000 described species.
I'm interested in three biological patterns:
Subsociality. While this behavior is well known among ants, bees and wasps it exists in only 11 families of beetles, including Chrysomelidae. In the subfamilies Cassidinae and Chrysomelinae several genera display maternal care of eggs, larvae, and even pupae.
Fecal domiciles and defensive shields. One of the oddest things that chrysomelid larvae do is recycle their feces, sometimes mixed with exuviae (shed skins), trichomes, and host-plant chemicals, as construction material. The behavior evolved independently within five subfamilies: Cassidinae, Criocerinae, Cryptocephalinae, and Galerucinae. It appears to be correlated with distinct transformations in the life history and morphology, and possibly represents a key evolutionary innovation that promoted speciation in those subfamilies.
Tri-trophic relationships of host plants, chrysomelid herbivores and their carabid beetle ectoparasitoids. Of interest are th biological, chemical and co-evolutionary connections across three trophic levels - host plants (Anacardiaceae, Burseraceae, and Solanaceae), chrysomelid herbivores, and their beetle parasitoids (Carabidae: Lebiini). The San Bushmen, drawing on cultural hunting knowledge thousands of years old, use the hemolymph of both herbivore and parasitoid to create a poison to tip the arrows they use in hunting. Scientists know the beetles as Diamphidia locusta.. Fieldwork for this project includes locations in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.