Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Personable Little Bug

Firebug, Pyrrhocoris apterus
As I progress through life, my opinions and outlook has changed, in a way that I would like to think is more mature. One thing that has not changed about me though is how I tend to be led by my stomach. When I'm hungry I need to eat. Otherwise I get irritable and withdrawn. People often mistake it for some deep troubles within me, but its just a primal need to fill my belly. However I have learned to deal with it though in the simple possible way: regular eating. And sometimes the joys are not only culinary. Recently hunger grabbed me in Cork city and I made my way into the nearest cafe, a wonderful vegan eaterie (I'm an omnivarian, I'll eat anything at all, and don't mind if there is no meat with my meal as many carnivores often do). While tucking into my felafel and salad (which was smashing, if you were wondering), my eye was caught by something small and red on the Crassula plant that was in front of me. I was a Firebug (Pyrrhocoris apterus), a species that if not native to Ireland and a species that, as far as I can ascertain, has not been reported here before. The mature adult had been there at least one week, according to the staff, and may have arrived in one of the many deliveries of vegetables that they receive every week from continental Europe where P. apterus has its base. A flightless bug, it feeds on Lime trees and tree-mallows, and is most associated with its swarming behaviour whereby numerous individuals clamour together. Its common name, Firebug comes from its wonderful crimson colour that contrast wonderfully with the black markings on its abdomen creating an almost face-like effect.

As with all insects, P. apterus goes through a series of ecdyses through out its life, five in all from hatching to adulthood. Interestingly it has been shown that at different stages of moult, individuals show distinctly different personalities. Larvae differed from adults in general in that they were bolder, explored their environment more thoroughly and seemed to be more active before final ecdysis (1). This raises the intriguing concept of personality differences between individual organisms as inherited traits. In an environment, it is argued, if fitness payoffs are dependent on an organisms behavioural history and the frequencies of competing strategies then personality differences can be selected for (2). It certainly is an interesting idea and is supported by evidence from diverse sources as lab rats, where heavier newborns are braver and more explorative (3), field crickets, where personality changes at maturity (4), and squid, where size determines personality. How exactly the behavioural changes take place in P. apterus is not know, but it may be due to hormonal reorganisation.
So perhaps my apparent grouchiness due to lack of food is just my inheritance...

  1. Gyuris et al., 2012. Animal Behaviour 84 pp. 103-109
  2. Dall et al., 2004. Ecology letters 7 pp. 734-739
  3. Rödel and Meyer 2011. Developmental Psychobiology 53 pp. 601-613
  4. Niemelä at al., 2011. Functional Ecology 26 pp. 450-456
  5. Sinn and Moltschaniwskyj, 2005. Journal of Comparative Psychology 119 pp. 99-110


  1. Wow, you just witnessed a new biological invasion!

  2. Ha ha! It was quite a shock to see it alright, they seem to be extending their range too so maybe its the first of many!

  3. Great find ,and just goes to show a real Naturalist is never of duty !

  4. Really nice post with good pic thanks for sharing.

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