Event Abstract

Brain development in an insect with extensive maternal care, the tsetse fly Glossina morsitans (Diptera: Glossinidae)

  • 1 West Virginia University, Biology, United States

Like birds and mammals, insects vary in the degree of maturity at birth, which is correlated with the availability of parental investment (Nalepa and Bell 1997). Precocial young are born relatively independent of adult care and are mobile with well-developed sensory organs and nervous systems and external structures such as feathers, fur, and exoskeletons. In contrast, altricial young are dependent upon parents or other adults that provide food and shelter, and show reduced mobility and delays in development of the brain, sensory organs and external structures. Altricial young likely have fewer sensory and behavioral demands relative to free-living precocial young, permitting the evolution of delayed development of structures required for more independent behavior due to reduced necessity. In insects, altricial young are often observed in eusocial species such as the honey bee Apis mellifera. Honey bee larvae are contained within brood cells and are provided with food by adult nestmates. Compared with free-living larvae such as those of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, sensory and integrative brain centers such as the antennal lobes and mushroom bodies show delayed development in the honey bee, first appearing at the late larval or early pupal stage rather than during embryogenesis (Farris and Sinakevitch 2003). Delayed mushroom body development is also observed in altricial larvae of non-social species such as dung beetles, in which young develop enclosed within a food source provided by the parent (Farris 2008). Perhaps the most extreme form of parental care in insects is adenotrophic viviparity. Obligate viviparity may be observed in the hippoboscoid flies, in which the entirety of larval development takes place within a uterus-like organ within the female in a manner similar to placental mammals (Krafsur 2009). Given the strong correlation between brain development and parental care of altricial young, observed in animals across phyla, we predict that hippoboscoid larvae and pupae will display profound delays in brain development associated with the paucity of sensory and behavioral needs of a larva developing in utero. Development of the brain, with emphasis on sensory neuropils and the mushroom bodies, will be investigated in a hippoboscoid species of the family Glossinidae, the tsetse fly Glossina morsitans. We predict brain development in this species will be delayed compared to that of related flies with free-living larvae such as Drosophila melanogaster; however, due to the greater degree of maternal care and the complete lack of sensory and behavioral demands due to the restricted ecology of the larva, the delay will be far more extensive than has been observed in other altricial species.


Farris SM (2008) Structural, functional and developmental convergence of the insect mushroom bodies with higher brain centers of vertebrates. Brain Behav Evol 72:1-15.
Farris SM, Sinakevitch I (2003) Development and evolution of the insect mushroom bodies: Towards the understanding of conserved developmental mechanisms in a higher brain center. Arthropod Structure and Development 32:79-101.
Krafsur ES (2009) Tsetse flies: genetics, evolution, and role as vectors. Infect Genet Evol 9:124-141.
Nalepa CA, Bell WJ (1997) Postovulation parental investment and parental care in cockroaches. In: The Evolution of Social Behavior in Insects and Arachnids (Choe JC, Crespi BJ, eds), pp 26-51. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Keywords: antennal lobes, central complex, Evolution of Development, Mushroom Bodies, optic lobes

Conference: Tenth International Congress of Neuroethology, College Park. Maryland USA, United States, 5 Aug - 10 Aug, 2012.

Presentation Type: Poster Presentation (see alternatives below as well)

Topic: Development

Citation: Farris SM and Rio RV (2012). Brain development in an insect with extensive maternal care, the tsetse fly Glossina morsitans (Diptera: Glossinidae). Conference Abstract: Tenth International Congress of Neuroethology. doi: 10.3389/conf.fnbeh.2012.27.00397

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Received: 01 May 2012; Published Online: 07 Jul 2012.

* Correspondence: Dr. Sarah M Farris, West Virginia University, Biology, Morgantown, WV, 26506, United States, sarah.farris@mail.wvu.edu