Investigating movement in the laboratory: dispersal apparatus designs and the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum

Authors: Pieter A Arnold, Michelle A Rafter, Rokhsareh Malekpour, Phillip Cassey, Gimme H Walter, and Craig R White

Published in: Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, volume 163, issue 1 (April 2017)


The natural dispersal of Tribolium castaneum Herbst (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae) has been emulated in the laboratory for more than 50 years, using a simple dispersal apparatus.
This has typically comprised of a starting container (initial resource or patch) connected by tubing, which contains thread for the animals to climb into a tube and hence to an end container. That is, beetles move to a new viable resource or patch from an inter-patch zone or non-viable habitat.

We modified this basic apparatus design to test the effect of tubing length and tubing insertion angle on the dispersal rate and proportion of successful dispersers.

We expected that the proportion of successful dispersers would be repeatable within each apparatus design, and that increasing tubing length and steepness of the insertion angle would reduce dispersal rate and success across apparatus designs.

Dispersal increased linearly through time, similarly so for both males and females. The design with the most vertical tubing insertion angle had a lower proportion of successful dispersers. Tubing length also had a negative relationship with dispersal success (as judged by insects reaching the end container), but a significant reduction in dispersal success was only apparent between the shortest and longest tubing between containers.

We suggest that locating and climbing the vertical section of string before they can enter the tubing between containers restricts dispersal and that at higher densities, insects exhibit greater inclination to climb.

This type of apparatus has flexible design tolerances and further potential to study the dispersal of other small insect species that primarily use pedestrian locomotion.

Arnold PA, Rafter MA, Malekpour R, Cassey P, Walter GH, White CR (2017) Investigating movement in the laboratory: dispersal apparatus designs and the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata PDF DOI