updated 9/7/2010 7:47:35 PM ET 2010-09-07T23:47:35

Individual insects and bugs may all look alike to human eyes, but each and every one is unique and possesses its own personality, suggests new research that also helps to explain how personality arises in virtually all organisms.

Some individual bugs, like humans, turn out to be shy, while others are very forceful, determined the study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"Boldness, explorativeness, activity and aggressiveness are the main personality traits usually measured because these connect to each other and appear together," lead author Eniko Gyuris told Discovery News.

What makes a bug bold or shy? Gyuris explains the traits manifest themselves a bit differently in insects.

"Boldness -- whether they are shier or braver -- could be defined, for example, as to how quickly they start after an alarm, or how soon they come out of their refuge," added Gyuris, a member of the Behavioral Ecology Research Group at the University of Debrecen. "Explorativeness could be measured in another context, namely in which they have the opportunity to discover a new environment with novel objects."

Gyuris and his team conducted personality tests on short-winged and long-winged firebugs, a common insect that's known for its striking red and black coloration. The researchers collected these bugs from wild populations in Debrecen, Hungary, and put them through a barrage of different situations.

In one experiment, an individual firebug was placed in a covered vial that was moved to a small, lit circular arena. Four colored plugs made of gum were arranged on the arena's floor to serve as objects for each bug to explore. The scientists then tapped the vial and removed the cover, noting how long it took for the insect to leave its protective container and explore its new surroundings.

The researchers also shook the bugs out of their vials and into the arena. The scientists recorded how many objects each firebug explored, how fast the bug moved, how long it took to reach the wall of the arena, and more. All experiments were repeated four times per bug.

Each individual firebug behaved in a unique manner that was consistent across all of the experiments. If a particular bug was classified as bold and brave, it acted that way under a variety of circumstances. The same held true for more tentative, less aggressive firebugs.

Females tended to show more extreme reactions, with long-winged firebugs acting bolder than short-winged ones.

The scientists believe their findings carry over to other bugs and animals, with genes, gender, life experiences, environmental conditions and other factors shaping personality.

"I think nearly every individual -- insects and other organisms alike -- has his or her own personality, with the possible exception of the ones living in very specific and stable habitats for a long time, like a cave, for example, as they may not need to behave in different ways among conspecifics," Gyuris explained.

Raine Kortet, a University of Helsinki researcher, and colleague Ann Hedrick discovered that personalities are all over the chart for field crickets, particularly among males. Some are veritable daredevils, while others are passive and guarded.

Kortet and Hedrick concluded that "more aggressive males are also more active in general, and possibly less cautious towards predation risk."

Prior research by Kortet also found that dominant male crickets are more attractive to females, with dominance possibly tied to better immune defense and certain beneficial genes.

But boldness isn't always better.

"Some traits can be beneficial in one context" but not in another, Gyuris indicated.

A brazen male bug that may be hearty and popular with females due to boldness, for example, could display aggressive behavior around an annoyed human and get squished in the process.

© 2012 Discovery Channel


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