Prey have evolved a number of defenses against predation, and predators have developed means of countering these protective measures. Although caterpillars of the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus L., are defended by cardenolides sequestered from their host plants, the Chinese mantid Tenodera sinensis Saussure guts the caterpillar before consuming the rest of the body. We hypothesized that this gutting behavior might be driven by the heterogeneous quality of prey tissue with respect to toxicity and/or nutrients. We conducted behavioral trials in which mantids were offered cardenolide-containing and cardenolide-free D. plexippus caterpillars and butterflies. In addition, we fed mantids starved and unstarved D. plexippus caterpillars from each cardenolide treatment and nontoxic Ostrinia nubilalis Hübner caterpillars. These trials were coupled with elemental analysis of the gut and body tissues of both D. plexippus caterpillars and corn borers. Cardenolides did not affect mantid behavior: mantids gutted both cardenolide-containing and cardenolide-free caterpillars. In contrast, mantids consumed both O. nubilalis and starved D. plexippus caterpillars entirely. Danaus plexippus body tissue has a lower C:N ratio than their gut contents, while O. nubilalis have similar ratios; gutting may reflect the mantid's ability to regulate nutrient uptake. Our results suggest that post-capture prey processing by mantids is likely driven by a sophisticated assessment of resource quality.
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Vol. 46 • No. 3