Investigation of hindwing folding in ladybird beetles by artificial elytron transplantation and microcomputed tomography
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 3 years ago
Ladybird beetles are high-mobility insects and explore broad areas by switching between walking and flying. Their excellent wing transformation systems enabling this lifestyle are expected to provide large potential for engineering applications. However, the mechanism behind the folding of their hindwings remains unclear. The reason is that ladybird beetles close the elytra ahead of wing folding, preventing the observation of detailed processes occurring under the elytra. In the present study, artificial transparent elytra were transplanted on living ladybird beetles, thereby enabling us to observe the detailed wing-folding processes. The result revealed that in addition to the abdominal movements mentioned in previous studies, the edge and ventral surface of the elytra, as well as characteristic shaped veins, play important roles in wing folding. The structures of the wing frames enabling this folding process and detailed 3D shape of the hindwing were investigated using microcomputed tomography. The results showed that the tape spring-like elastic frame plays an important role in the wing transformation mechanism. Compared with other beetles, hindwings in ladybird beetles are characterized by two seemingly incompatible properties: (i) the wing rigidity with relatively thick veins and (ii) the compactness in stored shapes with complex crease patterns. The detailed wing-folding process revealed in this study is expected to facilitate understanding of the naturally optimized system in this excellent deployable structure.
Coleoptera (beetles) is a massively successful order of insects, distinguished by their evolutionarily modified forewings called elytra. These structures are often presumed to have been a major driving force for the successful radiation of this taxon, by providing beetles with protection against a variety of harsh environmental factors. However, few studies have directly demonstrated the functional significance of the elytra against diverse environmental challenges. Here, we sought to empirically test the function of the elytra using Tribolium castaneum (the red flour beetle) as a model. We tested four categories of stress on the beetles: physical damage to hindwings, predation, desiccation, and cold shock. We found that, in all categories, the presence of elytra conferred a significant advantage compared to those beetles with their elytra experimentally removed. This work provides compelling quantitative evidence supporting the importance of beetle forewings in tolerating a variety of environmental stresses, and gives insight into how the evolution of elytra have facilitated the remarkable success of beetle radiation.
The carabid beetle species Pterostichus oblongopunctatus is common in different types of forests in Poland and Europe. With respect to this species, some unclarities exist concerning the morphological feature of punctures on the elytra. P. oblongopunctatus has dorsal pits in the third interval of the elytra, the available identification keys, however, provide inconsistent information concerning the puncture in other intervals. During long-term studies at different study sites in Poland, the first author rarely but regularly discovered individuals with unusual dorsal puncture patterns, i.e., pits in the fifth and even in the seventh interval of the elytra. Since such rare patterns might be connected with special habitat characteristics, and thus have a potential as an indicator, the aim of the study was to test if they are connected with specific subpopulations (interaction groups), if they are related to the sex or size of the beetles, and if they are related to specific habitat conditions.
Loss of the flight ability and wing reduction has been reported for many taxa of Coleoptera. If elytra are closed, their roots are clenched between the tergum and the pleuron, forces applied to the elytra can not be transmitted to the field of campaniform sensilla situated on the root. That is why it is plausible to assume that the field becomes redundant in non-flying beetles. We examined the relationships between the hind wing reduction and characters of this mechanosensory field in beetles of six families. We measured the size of the elytron, that of the hind wing and counted the number of sensilla in the sensory field. Mesopterous non-flying beetles retain one half to one third of sensilla present in macropterous species of the same body size. Further reduction of the sensory field in brachypterous species is obvious, but sensilla are still present in insects with strongly reduced wings, as long as their elytra are separable and mesothoracic axillaries are present. Complete loss of sensilla coincides with the existence of a permanent sutural lock. However, some beetles with permanently locked elytra and absence of axillaries still retain few campaniform sensilla. A very special case of an extreme wing modification in feather-wing beetles is considered. No sensilla were revealed either on the root of the elytron or on the basal segment of such fringed wings in flying ptiliid species.
In this first of three articles we show construction of the articular part of the elytron, the root. The root bears a conspicuous field of campaniform sensilla. This field was studied using light and scanning electron microscopes. Diversity of shape of the field among beetles, types of orientation of elongated sensilla within the field, individual variability of their number among conspecifics are demonstrated. Elongated sensilla point to the junction of the elytron with the second axillary plate. Presumably, they monitor twist movement in this junction which is possible if the elytron is open. The goal of the whole project is to reveal the effect of both structure and function of the hind wings and elytra on morphology of this mechanosensory field. Our data on allometric relationships between the animal size and quantitative characteristics of the field in normally flying beetles provide an important background for further functional analysis of this sensory organ. We selected 14 series of several species belonging to the same taxon but differing in size from big to small. It is revealed that the area of the sensory field is directly proportional to the elytral area, whereas the number of sensilla is proportional to the square root of the elytral area. Despite the great range in the elytral area (1500 times) in series of selected species the area of an external pit or cap of a single sensillum varies only 25-fold. The density of sensilla per unit area of the sensory field increases with a decrease of the elytral area.
Some flying beetles have peculiar functional properties of their elytra, if compared with the vast majority of beetles. A “typical” beetle covers its pterothorax and the abdomen from above with closed elytra and links closed elytra together along the sutural edges. In the open state during flight, the sutural edges diverge much more than by 90°. Several beetles of unrelated taxa spread wings through lateral incisions on the elytra and turn the elytron during opening about 10-12° (Cetoniini, Scarabaeus, Gymnopleurus) or elevate their elytra without partition (Sisyphus, Tragocerus). The number of campaniform sensilla in their elytral sensory field is diminished in comparison with beetles of closely related taxa lacking that incision. Elytra are very short in rove beetles and in long-horn beetles Necydalini. The abundance of sensilla in brachyelytrous long-horn beetles Necydalini does not decrease in comparison with macroelytrous Cerambycinae. The strong reduction of the sensory field was found in brachyelytrous Staphylinidae. Lastly, there are beetles lacking the linkage of the elytra down the sutural edge (stenoelytry). Effects of stenoelytry were also not uniform: Oedemera and flying Meloidae have the normal amount of sensilla with respect to their body size, whereas the sensory field in the stenoelytrous Eulosia bombyliformis is 5-6 times less than in chafers of the same size but with normally linking broad elytra.
Morphological innovation is a fundamental process in evolution, yet its molecular basis is still elusive. Acquisition of elytra, highly modified beetle forewings, is an important innovation that has driven the successful radiation of beetles. Our RNAi screening for candidate genes has identified abrupt (ab) as a potential key player in elytron evolution. In this study, we performed a series of RNA interference (RNAi) experiments in both Tribolium and Drosophila to understand the contributions of ab to the evolution of beetle elytra. We found that (i) ab is essential for proper wing vein patterning both in Tribolium and Drosophila, (ii) ab has gained a novel function in determining the unique elytron shape in the beetle lineage, (iii) unlike Hippo and Insulin, other shape determining pathways, the shape determining function of ab is specific to the elytron and not required in the hindwing, (iv) ab has a previously undescribed role in the Notch signal-associated wing formation processes, which appears to be conserved between beetles and flies. These data suggest that ab has gained a new function during elytron evolution in beetles without compromising the conserved wing-related functions. Gaining a new function without losing evolutionarily conserved functions may be a key theme in the evolution of morphologically novel structures.
The staphylinid subfamily Micropeplinae includes small strongly sclerotized beetles with truncate elytra leaving the most part of abdomen exposed. Fossil micropeplines are rare and confined to Cenozoic representatives of extant genera. Here, we describe the oldest micropepline, Protopeplus cretaceus gen. and sp. n., from the Upper Cretaceous Burmese amber. Fluorescence microscope and confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) were both used to reveal diagnostic features of Micropeplinae and some primitive traits that place Protopeplus very basally within Micropeplinae.
Movements of the elytra and axillary sclerites were video recorded in tethered flying beetles and in manipulated mounts. Mesothoracic axillary plates are homologues of those in the metathorax. Two anterior axillaries (Ax1, Ax2) fuse together; they are hinged to the third axillary plate (Ax3). In turn, Ax3 is hinged with the elytron. During takeoff, a beetle abducts and highly elevates its elytra (1), then droops the elytra in a flatly spread position (2); closing is adduction in a horizontal plane (3). These steps have been simulated: (1) by pressing down the anterior horn; (2) occurred spontaneously after release of pressing; (3) the elytron closed flatly either by manual turn of the elytron or by manual elevation of the prothorax. Anterior axillaries rotated forward and down during (1), returned during (2) and remained immobile during closing. Ax3 is folded between the closed elytron and Ax1+Ax2; it unfolds during opening. Two hinges of Ax3 form a Z-configuration and provide a linked drive for complicated rotation of the elytron. Opening was impaired in vivo if tergal leg protractor and depressor were disabled, closing did not suffer. Closing was prevented by excision in the hind edge of the pronotum, not harmful for opening. Role of direct and indirect muscles in transient elytral movements is discussed.