Cantharidin world in nature: a concealed arthropod assemblage with interactions via the terpenoid cantharidin



Cantharidin is produced by beetles of only two families, the Meloidae and the Oedemeridae. This substance is a defensive terpenoid that is toxic to the enemies of the beetles. Cantharidin also attracts other groups of insects and has been used as a bait to trap them. Cantharidin-baited traps deployed in central Japan captured coleopterans (Anthicidae, Endomychidae, Pyrochroidae, and Scarabaeidae), dipterans (Ceratopogonidae), hymenopterans (Formicidae), and harvestmen (Podoctidae). The seasonal occurrences of these arthropods, their sex ratios, known feeding choices, and mating habits suggest three possible underlying reasons for the attractancy of cantharidin: (i) it is accumulated as a defense against enemies and sometimes for transfer from males to females as a nuptial gift; (ii) it is used as a chemical cue in food searching; and (iii) it is used as an aggregation pheromone by mature arthropod individuals. The group of canthariphilous arthropods we describe represents a cryptic ecological assemblage with rare chemical networking among apparently unrelated species.