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Quantification and Evidence for Mechanically Metered Release of Pygidial Secretions in Formic Acid-Producing Carabid Beetles


This study is the first to measure the quantity of pygidial gland secretions released defensively by carabid beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae) and to accurately measure the relative quantity of formic acid contained in their pygidial gland reservoirs and spray emissions. Individuals of three typical formic acid producing species were induced to repeatedly spray, ultimately exhausting their chemical compound reserves. Beetles were subjected to faux attacks using forceps and weighed before and after each ejection of chemicals. Platynus brunneomarginatus (Mannerheim) (Platynini), P. ovipennis (Mannerheim) (Platynini) and Calathus ruficollis Dejean (Sphodrini), sprayed average quantities with standard error of 0.313 +/- 0.172 mg, 0.337 +/- 0.230 mg, and 0.197 +/- 0.117 mg per spray event, respectively. The quantity an individual beetle released when induced to spray tended to decrease with each subsequent spray event. The quantity emitted in a single spray was correlated to the quantity held in the reservoirs at the time of spraying for beetles whose reserves are greater than the average amount emitted in a spray event. For beetles with a quantity less than the average amount sprayed in reserve there was no significant correlation. For beetles comparable in terms of size, physiological condition and gland reservoir fullness, the shape of the gland reservoirs and musculature determined that a similar effort at each spray event would mechanically meter out the release so that a greater amount was emitted when more was available in the reservoir. The average percentage of formic acid was established for these species as 34.2%, 73.5% and 34.1% for for P. brunneomarginatus, P. ovipennis and C. ruficollis, respectively. The average quantities of formic acid released by individuals of these species was less than two-thirds the amount shown to be lethal to ants in previously published experiments. However, the total quantity from multiple spray events from a single individual could aggregate to quantities at or above the lethal level, and lesser quantities are known to act as ant alarm pheromones. Using a model, one directed spray of the formic acid and hydrocarbon mix could spread to an area of 5-8 cm diameter and persisted for 9-22 seconds at a threshold level known to induce alarm behaviors in ants. These results show that carabid defensive secretions may act as a potent and relatively prolonged defense against ants or similar predators even at a sub-lethal dose.

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