The role of invertebrate predation in shaping vertebrate communities is often overlooked. This is evident with predaceous diving beetles (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae), which are often the top predator in many aquatic freshwater habitats. During weekly monitoring of a reintroduction for an endangered frog, a group of a dozen adult diving beetles were encountered attacking and quickly dismembering and consuming a tadpole. A single adult diving beetle was also discovered burrowing its head inside and consuming a tadpole approximately 3–4 times its size by seemingly piercing its prey to suck out its liquefied remains. This is in contrast with the well known behaviour of adult dytiscids, which involves tearing prey into small pieces with their chewing mouthparts. Although dytiscids are known to occasionally consume vertebrates such as tadpoles, adults are typically considered scavengers, and this communal predatory behaviour and feeding method have not previously been documented. Moreover, over 80% of the tadpoles in the monitored site were found in ponds with no beetles and despite representing only a quarter of all ponds, half of the tadpoles across the landscape were in ponds free of diving beetles, demonstrating a possible influence of diving beetles on tadpoles. These observations may have implications for amphibian conservation since management efforts are not typically concerned with naturally occurring ubiquitous threats such as those from small invertebrate predators, as it has rarely been observed in nature. Although amphibian conservation plans expect some losses from natural predation, diving beetles may affect conservation efforts such as captive breeding and reintroductions with populations where every individual is critical to success.
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Vol. 66 • No. 5-6