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Group size in a gregarious tortoise beetle: patterns of oviposition vs. larval behaviour

Costa, Juan F., Cosio, Walter, Gianoli, Ernesto
Entomologia experimentalis et applicata 2007 v.125 no.2 pp. 165-169
Calystegia sepium, Chelymorpha, adulthood, adults, eggs, gardens, group size, host plants, larvae, larval development, leaves, neonates, oviposition, rearing, regression analysis
In laboratory and garden experiments, we tested for the existence of adaptive patterns of oviposition and larval behaviour regarding group size in the gregarious tortoise beetle Chelymorpha varians Blanchard (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Cassidinae) on its host plant Calystegia sepium L. (Convolvulaceae). Specifically, we addressed the following questions: (i) Which is the more frequent egg cluster size? (ii) Does cluster size fully predict larval group size? (iii) Are newborn larvae attracted or repelled to conspecific groupings? and (iv) Which is the group size associated with enhanced larval development and adult mass? We found that the mean cluster size was 21.4 eggs. Egg hatch time was significantly shorter in larger clusters. A regression analysis of larval group size against cluster size showed non-significant results. Thus, original cluster size did not totally determine the larval group size. The mean larval group size was 17.1. Choice tests in an experimental arena showed that larvae clearly preferred leaves of a host plant rather than moistened papers, and that larvae preferred a small group of conspecifics (four larvae per leaf) over larger groups (12 or 20 larvae). Empty leaves of the host plant showed an intermediate level of preference. Development time and beetle performance (adult mass) were affected by larval group size. Larvae in the smallest group (one per leaf) took four more days to attain adulthood than larvae in the larger groups (12 and 20 larvae). Adult C. varians reared in the 12-larvae group were significantly larger than those reared at the other densities. Comparison of patterns across experimental groups, excluding the 12-larvae group, showed a tendency for a greater final mass with slower developmental rate.