Convergent evolution in the antennae of a cerambycid beetle, Onychocerus albitarsis, and the sting of a scorpion


Venom-injecting structures have arisen independently in unrelated arthropods including scorpions, spiders, centipedes, larval owlflies and antlions, and Hymenoptera (wasps, ants, and bees). Most arthropods use venom primarily as an offensive weapon to subdue prey, and only secondarily in defense against enemies. Venom is injected by biting with fangs or stinging with a specialized hypodermic structure used exclusively for the delivery of venom (usually modified terminal abdominal segments). A true sting apparatus, previously known only in scorpions and aculeate wasps, is now known in a third group. We here report the first known case of a cerambycid beetle using its antennae to inject a secretion that causes cutaneous and subcutaneous inflammation in humans. Scanning electron microscopy revealed that the terminal antennal segment of Onychocerus albitarsis (Pascoe) has two pores opening into channels leading to the tip through which the secretion is delivered. This is a novel case of convergent evolution: The delivery system is almost identical to that found in the stinger of a deadly buthid scorpion.

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This work was supported by grants from The American Philosophical Society, The City University of New York PSC-CUNY Research Award Program, and The National Science Foundation RIG 0542276. Specimens were generously provided by Dr. Lorenzo Prendini and Randy Mercurio (L. quinquestriatus) and Dr. Lee Herman (O. crassus) at the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History. Special thanks to Cláudia Moreno and João Vasconcelos (UNICAMP, Brazil), who first drew our attention to the stinging cerambycid, the Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica and INRENA for facilitating field research in Peru, Dr. Scott Mori (New York Botanical Garden) for manuscript review, Dr. Jorge Morales (CCNY), for guidance with SEM, and Frank Hovore, for unflagging skepticism. This study complies with the laws of Peru and the USA.

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Correspondence to Amy Berkov.

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Berkov, A., Rodríguez, N. & Centeno, P. Convergent evolution in the antennae of a cerambycid beetle, Onychocerus albitarsis, and the sting of a scorpion. Naturwissenschaften 95, 257–261 (2008) doi:10.1007/s00114-007-0316-1

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  • Anisocerini
  • Aculeus
  • Cerambycidae
  • Defense chemicals
  • Leiurus quinquestriatus
  • O. crassus