• egg cannibalism;
  • evolution;
  • ladybirds;
  • modelling;
  • oviposition-deterring pheromone


1.  Egg cannibalism by larvae is common in Coccinellidae and is known to be advantageous for the cannibals. Furthermore, larvae of aphidophagous ladybirds usually produce an oviposition-deterring pheromone (ODP), which inhibits oviposition by adult females. It has been proposed that the response to ODP has evolved because of the high costs of cannibalism. However, this has never been formally proved.

2.  In this paper, we study the theoretical evolution of this system. We first look at the conditions under which cannibalism and the response to ODP can evolve. Subsequently, we examine the occurrence of polymorphism both in the production of larval tracks and in the sensitivity of females to specific pheromones.

3.  The models predict that the amount of cannibalism should not depend on prey density and that evolution should lead to a continuous increase in cannibalism, and consequently larvae should always cannibalize eggs when possible. In response to the cost of cannibalism, ODP recognition can evolve, so that females avoid laying eggs in patches of prey already occupied by conspecific larvae. The result is an arms race between larvae and adult females, which favours a diversification of ODP pheromones. Our models show that: (i) females should be able to recognize mixtures of hydrocarbons rather than a single molecule; and (ii) females should be more sensitive to the tracks of their own offspring than those of non-related larvae.