(CNN)Because of their small size, water beetles might have been kicked around since they were born — but thanks to abnormal survival strategies, they're "stayin' alive" after predators eat them.
Eaten water beetles stay alive by escaping through the predator's anus
Meet the aquatic beetle Regimbartia attenuata, which can survive a journey through a dark-spotted frog's gut and exit alive through its feces, according to a study published Monday in the journal Current Biology.
The pressure of being hunted is typically what leads to the evolution of different escape behaviors in prey animals. Surviving the extreme conditions of an animal's digestive system is a wild card that depends on the prey animal's ability to move quickly through to the, ahem, escape hatch.
Such a deadly environment could impose speedy and active escape behaviors on swallowed prey species — so Shinji Sugiura, the author of the study, tested this hypothesis with aquatic beetles and dark-spotted frogs.
After the frogs swallowed the beetles, 90% of the insects were excreted within six hours of being eaten "and, surprisingly, were still alive," said Sugiura, an associate professor in the department of agrobioscience at Kobe University in Japan, in the study.
In a second experiment, beetles whose legs were fixed together with wax were all killed and inside the frogs' digestive systems for more than a day — indicating that the first beetles might have used their legs to actively and quickly escape headfirst from the frogs, rather than being passively released through the frogs' waste.
Most prior studies have analyzed how prey animals escaped before contact. This study "is the first to document active prey escape from the vent of a predator and to show that prey may promote predator defecation to hasten escape from inside the predator's body," Sugiura said.
The aquatic beetle R. attenuata is common in wetlands where the dark-spotted frog (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) abundantly resides. Because this frog species eats both land and water insects, it's a potential predator of these specific aquatic beetles.
To investigate how the beetles responded to being eaten by the frogs, Sugiura provided the frogs with the beetles in plastic bins. The frogs swallowed all 15 of the beetles but excreted more than 93% of them within four hours afterward. The beetles often exited entangled within the frogs' feces, but then quickly recovered and swam around freely. This same escape behavior happened with four other frog species, but some beetles had slightly lower rates of success.