If everyone sat down and figured out how much kids were actually going to cost them, we bet fewer people would reproduce. Those wriggly little dependents apparently need to be fed, and clothed, and sent to music appreciation class as well as college. Before we know it, we’re knee-depth in debt and future grad-school investment funds, and can only pray that our offspring will let us crash with them once our retirement fund is completely depleted.
If only we were as wise as the sage burying beetle. Unlike many insects, the beetle’s male and female share child-care duties (just like humans!). Perhaps that two-beetle-heads-are-better-than-one approach helps this particular species to be savvier about offspring and population control. While some primates have also made savvy child-rearing decisions based on materials supply, Fosters.com reports that research from the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station at the University Of New Hampshire suggests that “some insects—specifically burying beetles—also choose to limit offspring when food is scarce.”
While this study is likely just a friendly reminder that beetles are about ready to take over the planet completely, it also shows considerable decision-making by these formerly-considered-simple insects. The burying beetle is known to feed off of animal carcasses, and then regurgitate that protein into its young. In the study, the researchers manipulated the beetles’ environment to see what the parental reactions would be:
When beetles were starved, the decisions parents made regarding the number of offspring to rear and their resulting size differed. Specifically, when food is limited, the beetles rear fewer young overall. However, in low-competition and food-limited environments, these offspring are larger. In contrast, high-competition and limited-food environments, parents have fewer and smaller offspring.
The fact that the offspring were smaller in high-competition environments suggests that the mom and dad burying beetles were keeping more of the food for themselves than for their kids. So while they may be more practical about reproducing, these bloodthirsty beetles also seem to lack a certain compassionate parental instinct. They probably wouldn’t even bother with grad-school investment funds.