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Using scissors to quantify hardness of insects: do bats select for size or hardness?


Patricia W. Freeman, School of Natural Resources and University of Nebraska State Museum, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68588-0514, USA.


Scissors are used to determine the hardness of fresh insects of different size and taxa. Our results indicate a strong relationship between the size of an insect and its hardness, which can be expressed as log(Fmax)=0.65 × log(V)+α. Fmax is the maximal force needed to cut the insect and is our measure of insect hardness. V is the volume of the insect and α is a constant that can be derived for different insect taxa. The value of 0.65 was found as an average of beetle and moth samples, and this number appears consistent across insect taxa. We found that beetles averaged about 3.2 times harder than moths of the same size. Beetles were also more variable in hardness than moths, with the softest beetles about equal in hardness to an average moth of the same size. Using our data on insect hardness coupled with data on the diets of bats and their bite forces from the literature, we attempt to determine whether the upper size limit of insects taken by a bat is limited by the insect's dimensions or its hardness. Our results indicate that both these factors may be important.

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