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Collective foraging patterns of field colonies of Malacosoma disstria caterpillars

  • Melanie McClure (a1) and Emma Despland (a1)


We monitored 12 colonies of the nomadic social caterpillar Malacosoma disstria Hübner (Lepidoptera: Lasiocampidae) on trembling aspen, Populus tremuloides Michx. (Salicaceae), under field conditions in spring 2007. We examined cohesion and synchronization of colonies and spatiotemporal activity patterns to compare foraging in the field with the results of laboratory studies and with foraging by central-place foragers. All colonies were highly cohesive; fragmentation was observed only three times. Activity was highly synchronous within colonies, with clear alternation between periods of activity and quiescence. Colonies performed 4.25 ± 0.12 (mean ± SE) activity bouts per day, and foraging was more likely to occur in the early morning than at midday. Colony activity was weakly correlated with temperature. In contrast to that of M. americanum (F.), the foraging schedule was flexible: foraging was observed at all recorded times and temperatures. Colonies searched for a new feeding site every 2.54 ± 0.37 days (mean ± SE) after a food source was depleted. Time spent at a food source decreased with colony size, and distance travelled between food sources increased with instar. Malacosoma disstria caterpillars on trembling aspen are not very selective; rather, they minimize movement, thus decreasing potential contacts with predators.

Nous avons observé 12 colonies de la livrée des forêts Malacosoma disstria Hübner (Lepidoptera: Lasiocampidae) sur des peupliers faux-trembles, Populus tremuloides Michx. (Salicaceae), sur le terrain au printemps 2007. Nous avons examiné la cohésion et la synchronisation des colonies, ainsi que les patrons temporaux et spatiaux de leurs activités, afin de comparer le comportement sur le terrain avec celui en laboratoire et avec celui des espèces à tentes. Toutes les colonies ont démontré une cohésion très élevée et la fragmentation n'a été observée que trois fois. L'activité des colonies était très synchronisée, alternant entre des périodes d'activité et de repos. Les colonies avaient 4.25 ± 0.12 (moyenne ± SE) périodes d'activité par jour. Les colonies étaient plus souvent actives tôt le matin qu'à midi, mais il n'y avait aucun patron régulier d'activités. La proportion des colonies étant actives était faiblement corrélée avec la température. De l'activité a été observée à toutes les heures et les températures, démontrant que la livrée des forêts a un horaire flexible, contrairement à M. americanum (F.). Les colonies de chenilles changeaient de site d'alimentation tout les 2.54 ± 0.37 jours (moyenne ± SE), lorsque celui-ci était épuisé. Le temps passé sur une source alimentaire était négativement corrélé avec la taille du groupe, et la distance parcourue entre deux sources augmentait avec le stade larvaire. Sur le peuplier, M. disstria n'exerce donc pas de sélection alimentaire mais minimise les déplacements entre les sites et les chances de rencontrer un prédateur.


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The Canadian Entomologist
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