Maternal Food Regurgitation to Nymphs in Earwigs (Forficula auricularia)


Mathias Kölliker, Zoological Institute, Evolutionary Biology, University of Basel, Vesalgasse 1, 4051 Basel, Switzerland. E-mail:


The occurrence of parental food regurgitation as a form of parental care in (sub-) social insects has been little studied and is largely based on anectodal and indirect evidence. However, understanding the behavioural mechanisms mediating the benefit of parental care is critical to advance research on the evolution of family interactions. Here, we report results from a study where we experimentally tested the hypothesis that European earwig (Forficula auricularia) females regurgitate food to their nymphs. We used a simple experimental method based on food dyes as colour markers to separate maternal food regurgitation and nymphal self-feeding as the two components of food intake by nymphs. Two different food dyes were used to label the food offered to the earwig mother and the nymphs respectively. By analysing the colour of the gut content of the nymphs, we demonstrate significant food transfer from the mother to the nymphs. This study demonstrates unambiguously that maternal food regurgitation exists in earwigs and presents a simple and easily applicable technique to trace maternal food regurgitation in the study of insect parental care and family interactions.