The social context of cannibalism in migratory bands of the Mormon cricket.
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Cannibalism has been shown to be important to the collective motion of mass migratory bands of insects, such as locusts and Mormon crickets. These mobile groups consist of millions of individuals and are highly destructive to vegetation. Individuals move in response to attacks from approaching conspecifics and bite those ahead, resulting in further movement and encounters with others. Despite the importance of cannibalism, the way in which individuals make attack decisions and how the social context affects these cannibalistic interactions is unknown. This can be understood by examining the decisions made by individuals in response to others. We performed a field investigation which shows that adult Mormon crickets were more likely to approach and attack a stationary cricket that was side-on to the flow than either head- or abdomen-on, suggesting that individuals could reduce their risk of an attack by aligning with neighbours. We found strong social effects on cannibalistic behaviour: encounters lasted longer, were more likely to result in an attack, and attacks were more likely to be successful if other individuals were present around a stationary individual. This local aggregation appears to be driven by positive feedback whereby the presence of individuals attracts others, which can lead to further crowding. This work improves our understanding of the local social dynamics driving migratory band formation, maintenance and movement at the population level.