Reciprocal Effects between Burying Behavior of a Larval Dragonfly (Odonata: Macromia illinoiensis) and Zebra Mussel Colonization

Research paper by Megan E. Hughes, Ola M. Fincke

Indexed on: 15 Mar '12Published on: 15 Mar '12Published in: Journal of insect behavior


Invasive zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) often colonize dragonfly larvae, especially spawling species whose survivorship to emergence as terrestrial predators is consequently reduced. Using individuals of the sprawler, Macromia illinoiensis, as their own controls, we compared the burying behavior of penultimate instar larvae before (i.e. baseline) and after their colonization by zebra mussels under ambient conditions. Individuals that took longer to bury themselves when mussel-free had a higher rate of colonization by mussels over a five-day period compared to those that buried faster. In contrast, the depth at which individuals buried when mussel-free was not predictive of subsequent colonization rate. Although mean bury time did not differ between baseline and when an individual carried one or more mussels, colonized larvae buried more shallowly than when mussel-free. Moreover, attached mussels increased the risk of subsequent colonization by zebra mussels. After naturally losing all of their attached mussels, bury time and depth of individuals did not differ from their baseline behavior, indicating that the changes in the behavior of colonized individuals were due to mussel loads and not their time in captivity. Under natural conditions, the positive feed-back between mussel attachment and increasing vulnerability to colonization helps explain how mussel loads, which are lost at molting, can accumulate quickly over the duration of the final larval stadium. Because zebra mussel attachment decreases the crypsis that that a M. illinoiensis gains from burying, the invasive mussel may also make dragonfly larvae more detectable to visual predators.