The evolution of autotomy in leaf-footed bugs

Evolution. 2020 May;74(5):897-910. doi: 10.1111/evo.13948. Epub 2020 Apr 8.


Sacrificing body parts is one of many behaviors that animals use to escape predation. This trait, termed autotomy, is classically associated with lizards. However, several other taxa also autotomize, and this trait has independently evolved multiple times throughout Animalia. Despite having multiple origins and being an iconic antipredatory trait, much remains unknown about the evolution of autotomy. Here, we combine morphological, behavioral, and genomic data to investigate the evolution of autotomy within leaf-footed bugs and allies (Insecta: Hemiptera: Coreidae + Alydidae). We found that the ancestor of leaf-footed bugs autotomized and did so slowly; rapid autotomy (<2 min) then arose multiple times. The ancestor likely used slow autotomy to reduce the cost of injury or to escape nonpredatory entrapment but could not use autotomy to escape predation. This result suggests that autotomy to escape predation is a co-opted benefit (i.e., exaptation), revealing one way that sacrificing a limb to escape predation may arise. In addition to identifying the origins of rapid autotomy, we also show that across species variation in the rates of autotomy can be explained by body size, distance from the equator, and enlargement of the autotomizable appendage.

Keywords: Autotomy; evolutionary ecology; evolutionary origins; latitudinal gradient; phylogenetic comparative methods; predator-prey.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Extremities / physiology
  • Heteroptera / anatomy & histology
  • Heteroptera / genetics
  • Heteroptera / physiology*
  • Predatory Behavior

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.6q573n5vz