Do insects make good parents?

May 12, 2017 3:33 PM
Blog Post

You might not think insects would make great parents, and in general, you would be correct. Most species just drop eggs and keep moving. But there are a few species, particularly true bugs (Hemiptera), that do try to protect their young. Parental care ranges from hiding eggs, to providing food, to forming life-long bonds. Not surprisingly, females often provide the care.

Very simply, females want to avoid desiccation and predation of their eggs. To increase the odds of survival, females will lay their eggs in protected areas or incorporate a toxin into the eggs. Sometimes they will secrete a protective coating on the eggs. You’ve probably noticed meadow spittlebug egg masses. The frothy foam keeps eggs and nymphs hydrated and protected from natural enemies.

spittlebug egg mass
Spittlebug egg mass. Photo by David Cappaert, www.ipmimages.org.

The giant water bug female lays eggs on the wings of a male. He stops everything else to protect the eggs until they hatch. Way to go, Dad!

giant water bug male
Giant water bug male babysitting a bunch of eggs. Photo by Kansas Department of Ag, www.ipmimages.org.

Rarely, females and males take care of their young as a pair. Most often this is found in species that feed on carrion, dung, or wood. Carrion and dung are unpredictable but valuable resources; usually, these insects create elaborate nests and produce smaller numbers of offspring. Wood is a common resource but is difficult to digest for most animals. Woodroaches care for a single brood of eggs for three or more years. What a commitment! Adults pass along digestive bacteria to help the young utilize wood as food.  

Author: 

Erin Hodgson Associate Professor

Dr. Erin Hodgson started working in the Department of Entomology at Iowa State University in 2009. She is an associate professor with extension and research responsibilities in corn and soybeans. She has a general background in integrated pest management (IPM) for field crops. Dr. Hodgson's curre...