Joel Kingsolver's paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society

Variation in growth and instar number in field and laboratory Manduca sexta

The tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta has been an important model system for understanding physiological control of growth, development and metamorphosis of insects for more than half a century. Like all Manduca, M. sexta typically has five larval instars, with developmental commitment to metamorphosis occurring early in the 5th (final) instar. Here we show that M. sexta from a field population in North Carolina (USA) shows substantial intraspecific variation in the number of larval instars when feeding on a modified artificial diet. Individuals with six instars consistently exhibited slower growth rates during early larval development than individuals with five instars. The frequency of individuals with six instars decreased with increased rearing temperature. In contrast, M. sexta from a laboratory colony consistently had five instars, and had more rapid larval growth rates than M. sexta from the field. We identify a threshold body size at the start of the 5th instar that predicts whether an individual will have five (greater than 600mg) or six instars (less than 600mg). Variation in field populations in Manduca provides an important resource for understanding physiological control, developmental plasticity and evolution of growth rate, body size and instar number.

Kingsolver, J.K. (2007) Variation in growth and instar number in field and laboratory Manduca sexta. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Vol 274 (No.1612), pp977 - 981. [ more ]