Temperature-dependent oxygen limitation in insect eggs

H. Arthur Woods, Ryan I. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most terrestrial insect embryos support metabolism with oxygen from the environment by diffusion across the eggshell. Because metabolism is more temperature sensitive than diffusion, embryos should be relatively oxygen-limited at high temperatures. We tested whether survival, development time and metabolism of eggs of a moth, Manduca sexta, were sensitive to experimentally imposed variation in atmospheric oxygen availability (5-50 kPa; normoxia at sea level is 21 kPa) across a range of biologically realistic temperatures. Temperature-oxygen interactions were apparent in most experiments. Hypoxia affected survival more strongly at warmer temperatures. Metabolic rates, measured as rates of CO2 emission, were virtually insensitive to hypo- and hyperoxia at 22°C but were strongly influenced at 37°C. Radial profiles of PO2 inside eggs, measured using an oxygen microelectrode, demonstrated that 3-day-old eggs had broad central volumes with PO2 less than 2 kPa, and that higher temperature led to lower P O2. These data indicate that at realistically high temperatures (32-37°C) eggs of M. sexta were oxygen limited, even in normoxia. This result has important implications for insect population ecology and the evolution of eggshell structures, and it suggests a novel hypothesis about insect gigantism during Paleozoic hyperoxia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2267-2276
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jun 2004


  • Egg
  • Eggshell
  • Insect gigantism
  • Manduca sexta
  • Metabolism
  • Moth
  • Oxygen availability
  • Paleozoic hyperoxia
  • Temperature


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