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Beetle moms repress mates' sex drive: chemical emitted by females makes males focus on parenting.

For burying beetles, parenting is a real turnoff.

While caring for larvae, a mother burying beetle (Nicrophorus vespilloides) releases a chemical compound that limits her mate's urge to breed. The antiaphrodisiac lets beetle dads focus on childcare, researchers report March 22 in Nature Communications.

"We were surprised to discover such a chemical communication system that helps to resolve--at least in part--conflicts between both parents," says study coauthor Sandra Steiger of the University of Ulm in Germany.

Burying beetles lay eggs on dead animals. For a few days after hatching, larvae beg their parents for predigested food. Previous work showed that beetles refrain from sexual activity--and that females release a gas--during this period.

In the new study, researchers determined that this gas is a compound called methyl geranate. Mother beetles release the gas while caring for a begging brood, producing more if they have more larvae. (Female beetles physically separated from larvae produce little to no methyl geranate.) The compound acts as a buzzkill for males; as females produce more, males make fewer attempts to mate.

Methyl geranate may benefit larvae by allowing attentive parenting, the researchers say. Mating would distract from tending to larvae, which grow and survive better with parental care. The female "can give the signal to the male: 'OK, now it's time to focus on caring and forget about sex,'" says behavioral ecologist Stephen Trumbo of the University of Connecticut in Waterbury.

Adults could benefit too. While caring for young, a female undergoes a hormonal shift that makes her less fertile, the team found. Mating attempts during this time are more likely to be a waste of energy.

Trumbo says the study provides a rare glimpse into how male and female invertebrates coordinate childcare. "It can benefit both the male and female, because they're going to achieve higher reproductive success if their mating behavior and parental behavior is well-coordinated and well-timed."

Caption: Mood killer while tending larvae, a mother burying beetle produces increased amounts of methyl geranate (red line), which reduces a father's urge to mate. Females physically separated from larvae produce little methyl geranate (blue line).



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Title Annotation:LIFE & EVOLUTION; methyl geranate
Author:Schwartz, Sarah
Publication:Science News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 30, 2016
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