#210…SCIENCE, religion, etc.: “Fat Insects”


Obese Bugs?


(So what?)


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    Insects are useful, and are used in many ways. Let’s talk about how people use them, and why.

    (1)  Well, their DNA is not extremely different from that of humans. In other words, things that affect bugs might also affect us–for ill or for good.

    (2)  There’s  ba-zillions and trillions of them–and more species of them than all other species put together.

    (3)  Researchers can use them to “test things” without the SPCA getting overly upset.

    (4)  They’re usually small, cheap, and don’t smell very bad when their lifespans end.

    (5)  And, of course, there’s the infamous “fruit fly”…


    Here’s a factoid from Daniel Engber’s “Ask Anything” column in the May 2014 issue of Popular Science. (As usual, we’ll highlight certain parts with color.)

                                  Can Insects Get Fat?

    “Some initial work on chubby bugs occurred in the 1960s when a Florida entomologist started publishing research on obese mosquitoes. When he fed the wild-caught flies by hand (‘by easing the proboscis into a micropipette’) he found that he could turn half their bodies into fat, by dry weight.

    “More recently, scientists have studied obesity in male dragonflies. Ruud Schilder, a biologist at Penn State, showed that infection with a certain parasite will induce the bugs to build up lipids in their thorax and around the muscles that they use for flight. These fatty dragonflies end up less successful at mating and defending their territory from rivals–perhaps because they’re unable to maintain long flights. In uninfected flies, however, it can help to have some fat: One of Schilder’s colleagues found that plump, healthy dragonflies had stronger muscles and reproduced more easily.

    “The most extensive work on insect obesity has been done on fruit flies. Larvae fed high-calorie diets tend to fatten up quickly, though ones with high-sugar diets develop a condition similar to diabetes and suffer shortened lifespans. Once a fly reaches adulthood, though, there’s a limit to how big it can get. Just like a human, the fruit fly stores its excess energy as lipid droplets, which are encased in cells. (Our lipid droplets live in fat tissue; a fruit fly has a comparable organ called the ‘fat body.’) But grown-up flies, like other insects, are encased in a chitin exoskeleton. That means their bellies can’t expand, say Thomas J. Baranski, an endocrinologist at Washington University. ‘Because it’s got this exoskeleton, it just packs the fat in tighter.'”

   Any sort of human connection here worth mentioning?

   (1) Believe it or not, as mentioned, the DNA (or hereditary code) of bugs is not that different from ours. What we learn about bugs–their weaknesses and their strengths–can help us learn about our physical bodies.

   (2) Further, a naturalistic evolutionist (discarding any God stuff) might say bug and human similarity illustrates the “fact” (“unproven,” we say) of “evolutionary change.” Another way of looking at it is that a designer, builder, or creator and sustainer of everything might draw from a common supply of building materials in making all that is organic and inorganic in the universe. (And, of course, “unproven,” they may say…)

Author: John Knapp