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Fog-basking behaviour and water collection efficiency in Namib Desert Darkling beetles

Thomas Nørgaard* and Marie Dacke

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology. University of Lund. Sölvegatan 35, S-22362 Lund, Sweden

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Frontiers in Zoology 2010, 7:23  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-7-23

Published: 16 July 2010

Abstract

Background

In the Namib Desert fog represents an alternative water source. This is utilised by Darkling beetles (Tenebrionidae) that employ different strategies for obtaining the fog water. Some dig trenches in the sand, while others use their own bodies as fog collectors assuming a characteristic fog-basking stance. Two beetle species from the genus Onymacris have been observed to fog-bask on the ridges of the sand dunes. These beetles all have smooth elytra surfaces, while another species with elytra covered in bumps is reported to have specialised adaptations facilitating water capture by fog-basking. To resolve if these other beetles also fog-bask, and if an elytra covered in bumps is a more efficient fog water collector than a smooth one, we examined four Namib Desert beetles; the smooth Onymacris unguicularis and O. laeviceps and the bumpy Stenocara gracilipes and Physasterna cribripes. Here we describe the beetles' fog-basking behaviour, the details of their elytra structures, and determine how efficient their dorsal surface areas are at harvesting water from fog.

Results

The beetles differ greatly in size. The largest P. cribripes has a dorsal surface area that is 1.39, 1.56, and 2.52 times larger than O. unguicularis, O. laeviceps, and S. gracilipes, respectively. In accordance with earlier reports, we found that the second largest O. unguicularis is the only one of the four beetles that assumes the head standing fog-basking behaviour, and that fog is necessary to trigger this behaviour. No differences were seen in the absolute amounts of fog water collected on the dorsal surface areas of the different beetles. However, data corrected according to the sizes of the beetles revealed differences. The better fog water harvesters were S. gracilipes and O. unguicularis while the large P. cribripes was the poorest. Examination of the elytra microstructures showed clear structural differences, but the elytra of all beetles were found to be completely hydrophobic.

Conclusions

The differences in fog water harvesting efficiency by the dorsal surface areas of beetles with very different elytra surface structures were minor. We therefore conclude that the fog-basking behaviour itself is a more important factor than structural adaptations when O. unguicularis collect water from fog.