Cleaning up after a meal: the consequences of prey disposal for pit-building antlion larvae
Predators use a variety of strategies for capturing prey. Trap-building predators can save on searching and encountering costs by investing in the construction and maintenance of traps such as webs and pits. However, what to do with partially consumed prey poses a potential problem. Antlion larvae (Myrmeleon acer) catch ants in conical pits, and dispose of partially consumed carcasses by flicking them a short distance away. We tested whether this prey-disposal behaviour affects the effectiveness of antlion pits. We observed ant behaviour around artificially constructed pits and compared falls into pits with clean margins to those with conspecific ant carcasses or control objects around the pit edge. The presence of objects near pits affected the behaviour of live ants, and reduced the effectiveness of pits. Live ants spent the most time examining fresh ant carcasses, but the presence of any object near pits deterred pitfalls. Ants fell into pits significantly more often when pit edges were clean, suggesting that antlions could incur a prey capture cost from flicking carcasses from pits as well as from the accumulation of other debris around pit margins.
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