Insects And Their Incredible ‘Melting’ Brains

The marvels of metamorphosis are only starting to be fully explored. Insects And Their Incredible ‘Melting’ Brains Giphy

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Love them or hate them, insects serve their own important purpose in our delicate ecosystem. Plus, there’s a lot more going on inside those tiny critters than you probably realized.

One way to gain a better understanding of what it takes to complete the life cycle of many bugs is by focusing on the complex and strangely elegant process known as metamorphosis.

The lacewing story

When you think of metamorphosis, you might immediately picture a cocoon in which a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. But similar fundamental changes occur in far more ways than just this one.

More than four-fifths of all animal species (including most insects) experience some form of metamorphosis during their life cycles. And the lacewing bug provides a clear example of how everything changes in the process.

They develop inside a clump of eggs, which are designed to protect the larvae inside from being eaten by others in the same group who happen to emerge earlier. This dichotomy between the peaceful beauty of the eggs and the potentially deadly instincts of newly hatched larvae led biology professor James Truman to describe it as “like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in one animal.”

It’s all in the mind

Like butterflies, lacewings are among the flying insects that develop while in a cocoon and after metamorphosis is complete. And this raises an interesting question for scientists: How does the bug’s brain and nervous system switch from that of a crawling bug in the larval stage to an insect with a completely new set of body parts and needs?

Truman has been a leader in the push to understand this subject and his team recently published a study that described how the brains of fruit flies essentially turn to mush during metamorphosis and reconfigure to form a brand new structure.

Chris Agee
Chris Agee October 2nd, 2023
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