Rearing ambrosia beetles in tubes
One of the coolest features of ambrosia beetles is that you can rear them on artificial media.
This is a technique perfected mostly by Dale Norris and his colleagues in the 70’s (Norris & Chu, 1985, among many of their publications). Peter Biedermann is also currently testing various approaches (Biedermann et al., 2009)
In short: mix sawdust and refined mycological agar media, pour in tubes, autoclave, let cool down, introduce ambrosia beetles. With a bit of luck and a sterile handling, ambrosia beetles will start a gallery in the tube, and the tunnels with brood and fungus should be visible through the glass. The trick is to pick the right beetle, and keep the rearing tubes clear of fast-growing opportunistic fungi.
So far, I’ve had the best luck with Xylosandrus germanus, Peter has also had a good success with the more picky Xyleborinus saxeseni, and Dr. Norris with his team did most of their experiments on Xyleborus ferrugineus.
With a bit of further development, these techniques may eventually facilitate the establishment of the fascinating and genetically unique ambrosia beetles as a laboratory model system for the study of symbiosis (Norris, 1993).
Norris, D.M. (1993) Xyleborus ambrosia beetles – a symbiotic ideal extreme biofacies with evolved polyphagous privileges at monophagous prices. Symbiosis, 14, 229-236.
Biedermann, P., Klepzig, K.D., & Taborsky, M. (2009) Fungus Cultivation by Ambrosia Beetles: Behavior and Laboratory Breeding Success in Three Xyleborine Species. Environmental Entomology, 38, 1096-1105.
Norris, D.M. & Chu, H. (1985). Xyleborus ferrugineus. In Handbook of Insect Rearing (ed. by P. Singh & R.F. Moore), pp. 303-315. Elsevier, Amsterdam.