Endothermy in Hymenopterans

Hymenopterans are a very diverse group of insects. One source describes them as, "being a holometabolous (having a complete metamorphosis) group, with generally apodous (without legs) larvae, exarate (with the appendages free, not glued to the body) pupa and a cocoon. The adults or imagos have two pairs of membranous wings, often with greatly reduced venation, the hind wings are smaller than the fore wings which they connected to by a series of interlocking hooks. They generally have biting mouth parts sometimes also adapted for lapping and sucking. They are normally thin waisted to some extent and an ovipositor is always present in some form or other, often adapted for sawing and or piercing and stinging" (Gordon 2001). In layman's terms, they encompass the different types of wasps, bees, and ants. Hymenopterans are also an extremely numerous and diverse group, the second largest in the world, containing over 120,000 recognized species (Gordon 2001).

Hymenopteran Adaptations

While hymenopterans have a great variety of life histories and survival strategies, various niches and habitats, they all share in common their use of endothermy as a principle means of adapting to their environments. While some hymenopterans use endothermy to greater degrees than others, all have adapted to use endothermy in some way thanks to the tremendous amount of heat produced by their wings. While it may seem easier for such a small creature to forego the ability to regulate its temperature, hymenopterans have gained many advantages by harnessing the heat produced by their flight muscle sand adapting it to their lifestyles. Use of endothermy allows hymenopterans to extend to a wider range of habitats and niches while allowing them greater diversity and adaptability in their lifestyles. Hymenopterans spread from habitats of the tropical rainforest to the Arctic, and encompass lifestyles from herbivore to carnivore and almost everything in between. This web page examines many of the different ways in which various hymenopterans use endothermy in order to adapt to their environments; these adaptations fall into five main categories: flight adaptations, winter survival adaptations, reproductive adaptations, reproductive benefits, and defensive adaptations.

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This website was created as a part of a class project in the Animal Physiology Class at Davidson College.

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