Every parent with young children knows that couples need to work together to accomplish the myriad tasks waiting both at work and at home. But it may come as a surprise that fireflies also juggle their commitments to find a comfortable work-family balance.
According to new research led by biologists at Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences, wingless "stay-at-home" female fireflies get less support from their mates than females who are able to fly.
There are more than 2000 species of fireflies around the globe, and these beetles show astoundingly diverse lifestyles. For some familiar backyard sparklers, both the male and female firefly have wings and can easily take to the air.
However, many female fireflies can only dream about flying because they don't have any wings. These wingless belles lounge on the ground or clamber onto twigs, where they lure flying males with a steady luminescent glow -- the common European glow-worm is a shining example.
A study published in the April 2011 issue of the journal Evolution (online Dec. 22) by Tufts biologists and collaborators at the University of Georgia and the Taiwan Museum of Science reveals a surprising link between these flightless females and how much their male partners are willing to contribute to their collective reproductive gain.
Like all creatures, firefly females maximize their evolutionary success by producing lots of offspring. Previous work by the Tufts research team has shown that some male fireflies donate a "nuptial gift" to females during mating. This gift contains sperm wrapped up in a nutritious high-protein package that helps a female to produce more eggs. Because most fireflies stop eating once they become adults, male nuptial gifts are significant for both sexes.
To explore these insects' work-family balance, the Tufts researchers set out to answer the question: When firefly females are flightless, does it change the division of reproductive labor between the sexes? That is, do firefly males still give nuptial gifts?"These females are definitely committed to being 'stay-at-home-moms' because they're basically a huge sac of eggs," said Sara Lewis, professor of biology at Tufts and co-author of the paper. By giving up wings, such flightless females can devote all their energy to churning out eggs and so gain an advantage over their winged cousins.
Working with firefly experts from around the world, the Tufts biologists studied the reproductive structures of 32 different species. They confirmed that in those with flying females, males did bestow nuptial gifts. In most species with flightless females, however, the males did not do so.
Looking Back at the First Fireflies
The researchers also peered back in time to the first fireflies.
In collaboration with colleagues in Georgia and Taiwan, the Tufts biologists used existing knowledge of the evolutionary relationships among different firefly species to examine how flight and nuptial gifts have changed over time.
In very early fireflies, the biologists discovered, females sported normal wings and accepted nuptial gifts from their male suitors. But the evolutionary tree also showed that nearly every time females stopped flying around, their partners retreated to transferring only sperm, revealing a surprising evolutionary correlation between these male and female traits.
So just like people, firefly couples also adjust how much effort each one will devote to work -- flight in this case -- or to family. With stay-at-home moms investing more in reproduction, some firefly males apparently decide that gifts are no longer worth giving.
Lewis noted that it remains to be seen whether this co-evolutionary linkage has also developed in other insects with flightless females. It is also unclear why females in some species of fireflies, but not others, have been able to survive and thrive without flight.
This research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant #IOB-0543738.
South, Adam, Stanger-Hall, Kathrin, Jeng, Ming-Luen, and Lewis, Sara M., "Correlated Evolution of Female Neoteny and Flightlessness with Male Spermatophore Production in Fireflies (Coleopetera: Lampyridae)," Evolution, no. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2010.01199.x.
Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university is widely encouraged.
Kim Thurler | EurekAlert!
Cancer diagnosis: no more needles?
25.05.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found
25.05.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Alternsforschung - Fritz-Lipmann-Institut e.V. (FLI)
The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.
Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
25.05.2018 | Event News
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering
25.05.2018 | Life Sciences