Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Physiological costs of chemical defence: repeated reflex bleeding weakens the immune system and postpones reproduction in a ladybird beetle.

Abstract

In insects, external chemical defences, such as reflex bleeding, have been proved to be an efficient strategy against various predators. At the same time, significant costs of reflex bleeding can be expected because bled haemolymph is lost and all valuable components included have to be renewed. Interestingly, this issue has rarely been investigated for adult insects. In this study, we examined the immune and fitness costs of repeated reflex bleeding in adults of the invasive ladybird Harmonia axyridis, investigating several haemolymph parameters. Reflex bleeding induced twice a week for three weeks resulted in a significant reduction in haemocyte concentration, total protein content, and antimicrobial activity against Micrococcus luteus, and a marginally non-significant decrease in antimicrobial activity against Escherichia coli. Repeated reflex bleeding did not result in significant body mass reduction. Interestingly, resource limitation in the form of complete food absence did not significantly interact with reflex bleeding, even though starvation itself had a strong negative effect on all haemolymph parameters investigated and individual body mass. Daily reflex bleeding did not result in decreased fecundity of young ladybirds during the first 30 days of their adult life, but the start of ladybird reproduction was delayed by about two days. Moreover, ladybirds bleeding larger amounts of haemolymph started their reproduction significantly later. Overall, our results indicate that repeated reflex bleeding weakens a ladybird's immune system and can increase their susceptibility to pathogens, but a ladybird's reproductive potential remains almost unaffected, even by very intensive reflex bleeding.