New fathers can learn a lot about good parenting from insects and save themselves from an early death, especially if they are in the company of a low-quality partner.
A new study carried out with burying beetles shows when a good insect father pairs with a bad mother, he risks being exploited by her for childcare and could bear the ultimate cost by dying young.
The findings also showed that bad parenting creates bad parents-to-be, while well-cared for larvae mature into high-quality parents.
"Parents obviously play a huge role in determining the characteristics of their offspring. "The aim of our study was to investigate non-genetic ways that parents achieve this," said lead researcher professor Rebecca Kilner from the University of Cambridge.
In the current study, when males were paired with females that had received no post-hatching care as larvae, they had significantly shorter lives than those whose partners had received more care.
"The most likely explanation is that males with low quality partners put more effort into parental duties to compensate for the shortcomings of their mate, and paid the price by dying younger," the authors noted.
In contrast, high-quality care not only produces a larger brood but individual offspring with a higher mass.
They found that parental care provides a mechanism for non-genetic inheritance.
"Good quality parents produce offspring that become good parents themselves, while offspring that receive poor parenting then become low-quality parents," Kilner noted.
The experiments show how parental care allows offspring to inherit characteristics of their parents, but non-genetically.
The research appeared in the journal eLife.