Get access

Noninvasive molecular methods to identify live scarab larvae: an example of sympatric pest and nonpest species in New Zealand


Marie-Caroline Lefort, Fax: +64 3 325 3864; E-mail:


Despite the negative impact that many scarab larvae have on agro-ecosystems, very little attention has been paid to their taxonomy. Their often extremely similar morphological characteristics have probably contributed to this impediment, which has also meant that they are very difficult to identify in the field. Molecular methods can overcome this challenge and are particularly useful for the identification of larvae to enable management of pest species occurring sympatrically with nonpest species. However, the invasive collection of DNA samples for such molecular methods is not compatible with subsequent behavioural, developmental or fitness studies. Two noninvasive DNA sampling and DNA analysis methods suitable for the identification of larvae from closely related scarab species were developed here. Using the frass and larval exuviae as sources of DNA, field-collected larvae of Costelytra zealandica (White) and Costelytra brunneum (Broun) (Scarabaeidae: Melolonthinae) were identified by multiplex PCR based on the difference in size of the resulting PCR products. This study also showed that small quantities of frass can be used reliably even 7 days after excretion. This stability of the DNA is of major importance in ecological studies where timeframes rarely allow daily monitoring. The approach developed here is readily transferable to the study of any holometabolous insect species for which morphological identification of larval stages is difficult.