U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version



Animal Behaviour 79 (2010) 281–289


Copyright 2009 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

This document is a U.S. government work and is not subject to copyright in the United States.



Food limitation induces severe competition for obligate seed-feeding insect larvae that are unable to leave the seed selected by their mother. The number of eggs laid per seed and the number of larvae hatched from the eggs are important determinants of whether larval behaviour within the seed will be of the scramble or the contest type. In maize weevils, Sitophilus zeamais, few adults emerge per seed regardless of the number of eggs laid, which may arise from scramble competition, if the optimum egg density (i.e. egg density leading to maximum total larval fitness) is low compared to the number of eggs laid per seed, or from contest competition due to direct interference among the larvae. The behavioural process and the ecological outcome of competition were assessed in two strains of the maize weevil. Neither strain showed a reduction in body mass with increased competition, and they had similar optimal egg densities (two eggs per seed). There was a hump in the larval fitness curve suggesting a scramble competition, but this conclusion is compromised because the optimum egg density was small (two eggs per seed). X-ray imaging of seeds was used to observe interactions of larvae within the seed and showed direct interference, with aggression among the larvae. This provides evidence of contest-like competition within seeds even when egg density was low. Hence, one should be cautious in inferring the underlying type of competitive behaviour from variables such as body mass and initial egg density per seed. Direct observation of behaviour is required to make such an inference.