Egg size, first instar behaviour and the ecology of Lepidoptera


  • Duncan Reavey

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    1. Department of Biology, University of York, York YOI 5DD, UK and Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge MA 02138, USA
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There is striking variation in egg size among Lepidoptera. Part of the explanation could be a link between egg size and larval feeding ecology.

The relationship between absolute egg size and aspects of feeding ecology for different Lepidoptera families from different temperate regions is examined. Species that overwinter in the egg stage have larger eggs. There are significant differences in egg size with respect to feeding specificity but different families show different patterns. Woody plant feeders have larger eggs than herb feeders. There is little effect of proximity of the egg to the plant part that is eaten.

Patterns in the behaviour and survival of newly hatched larvae of 42 spp. of British Lepidoptera and their relationship to egg and larval size and to food plant characteristics are examined. Patterns in egg size with respect to feeding ecology are similar to those described above. There is a strong correlation between egg size and the size of newly hatched larvae. Newly hatched larvae survived for a mean of 1–20 days without food. Survival is not correlated with larval weight. Grass feeders survive longer than herb and woody plant feeders; the species surviving the longest feeds on lichens. Newly hatched larvae moved at a mean speed of 0.7-267.8 cm h-1. Speed is not correlated with larval weight or survival time. Grass feeders move faster than woody plant feeders which, in turn, move faster than herb feeders. Woody plant feeders tend to move upwards, grass feeders downwards and herb feeders both upwards and downwards. The proportion of larvae silking is negatively correlated with larval weight.

The strong links between egg size and larval feeding ecology and between feeding ecology and larval behaviour are discussed. It is surprising that larval body size does not appear to constrain the speed of movement, nor tolerance to starvation.