Desperate times call for desperate measures. As food shortages hit, European earwig babies resort to eating each other’s faeces in their underground homes, helping to keep hunger and death at bay.
In times of plentiful food, the earwig offspring, or ‘nymphs’, feast on scraps of plant and insect material that their mother brings back from her trips above ground, and on food she regurgitates.
But when faced with limited supplies, the nymphs have to make do with what’s around them to survive.
Unlike many other insects that live in groups, European earwigs don’t clear their nest of faeces. Availability of faeces in hard times keeps the nymphs alive for about two more days on average than without them, researchers have now found.
In the lab, researchers deprived 56 five-day-old nymphs of food, and offered 28 of them faeces from their siblings. Nymphs with nothing to feed on survived for an average of 14 days, but those with access to their siblings’ faeces lived for an average of 16 days.
Photo credit: Joël Meunier