March 22 (UPI) -- The innate drive to care for offspring helps parents overcome many obstacles, including physical disabilities. New research shows disabled beetles work extra hard to be good parents.
In fact, scientists found disabled beetles went above and beyond the parenting efforts exhibited by their able-bodied peers.
To test the impact of a disability on parenting effort, scientists at the University of Edinburgh attached tiny weights to the legs of burying beetle parents and observed their behavior. The tests showed those with a physical disadvantage spent more time nursing their children than moms unburdened by extra weight.
Scientists hypothesize that the mother beetles believe their impairment spells the end, and thus, devote extra resources to what they assume is their last brood.
Whether this shift in behavior is the product of an automatic biochemical reaction in the body or some kind of neural processing isn't clear, but the research -- detailed this week in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology -- suggests the beetles are capable of altering their approach to resource allocation on the fly.
"We were surprised to find that handicapped insects were providing more care instead of less -- this is the opposite of what we expected," biologist Tom Ratz said in a news release. "It seems that among these careful parents, decisions about how much to care for current or future offspring are influenced by the likely benefit."