Insect eggs exert rapid control over an oxygen-water tradeoff

Brandy Zrubek, H. Arthur Woods

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


In terrestrial environments, the exchange of respiratory gases exacts a water cost: obtaining oxygen or carbon dioxide requires losing water. Insect eggs should be especially sensitive to this tradeoff - because they are unable to forage for water, have high surface area-to-volume ratios, and experience large temperature-driven changes in oxygen demand. Previous work from our laboratory, on eggs of a common hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, has shown that, during development, metabolic rate and water loss rates rise in parallel. These correlative data suggest that eggshell conductance increases to accommodate increasing metabolic demand. Here, we test this idea experimentally by subjecting eggs of M. sexta to 15, 21 (normoxia) and 35% oxygen for 24 h, while measuring rates of metabolism (as carbon dioxide emission) and water loss. Hypoxia depressed egg metabolic rates, but led to pronounced, rapid increases in water loss. By contrast, hyperoxia had no significant effect on metabolism or water loss. These data demonstrate that insect eggs actively participate in balancing oxygen gain and water loss, and that they use tissue oxygen status, or some correlate of it, as a cue for increasing eggshell conductance. Rapid control over conductance may allow eggs to conserve water during an initial period of low metabolic demand, thereby deferring water costs of respiratory gas exchange until late in development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)831-834
Number of pages4
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1588
StatePublished - Apr 7 2006


  • Diffusive transport
  • Egg
  • Eggshell
  • Embryo
  • Manduca sexta
  • Metabolism


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