Stinky seeds dupe dung beetles

dung beetle and seeds

ROLL PLAY  The seeds of Ceratocaryum argentum (middle) closely resemble antelope dung (left) in both looks and smell, a mimicry that fools dung beetles (right) into spreading and burying the seeds. 

Midgley et al/Nature Plants 2015

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Poop-imitating seeds trick dung beetles into doing the dirty work.  

The bumpy, brown seeds of the Ceratocaryum argenteum plant look like herbivore droppings— and smell like them, too. The seeds, native to South Africa, release aromatic gases similar to those from the droppings of local antelopes, researchers report October 5 in Nature Plants. This mimicry tricks Epirinus flagellatus dung beetles into rolling and burying the seeds just like they do with real feces.

The seeds’ adept imitation ensures that they’ll get spread and planted. For dung beetles, the interaction is a bust. Because the seeds appeared unscathed after being buried, the researchers believe that the beetles discover they’ve been duped while trying to eat or lay eggs on the mock muck. 

DUPED  Ceratocaryum argenteum seeds look deceptively like antelope dung. Epirinus flagellatus dung beetles can be tricked into rolling a seed around and burying it, just as they would real animal droppings.

Credit: Midgley et al / Nature Plants 2015

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