X-ray Microscopic Studies of Insects

Picture composition of volume rendering reconstructions of honey bee workers in their daily activities: foraging and sipping nectar on a daisy flower (Aster sp.). To point out the internal structures the insect and the flower have been “virtually” cut by using the free Skyscan’s software CTVox. Colors were obtained varying the color transfer function curves, in conjunction with the lighting and shadowing options within CTVox’s software. “Wiley Analytical Science,” Alba-Tercedor, Javier, et al, January 2019.

Micro-CT is well-accepted for use in insect studies as it doesn’t destroy the samples and also allows the insects to be studied as often as wanted from any angle. This  approach is extremely valuable not only for new samples, but for future studies based on the comparison of stored images datasets. X-ray 3D-imaging techniques have gained fundamental significance in multiple research areas. With insect studies, there is demand for the characterization of species-specific morphological adaptations and micro-CT has become the method of choice. The articles referenced below provide some examples of the types of research on insects being done using micro-computed tomography.

Comparing micro-CT results of insects with classical anatomical studies:

It is well accepted that micro-CT provides key advantages to researchers because it does not damage the samples and because the images are comparable with low magnification SEM images. This article compares micro-CT image results of studies of the honey bee with a classical anatomical study published by Snodgrass in the early twentieth century, still considered a complete compendium about the anatomy of the honey bee. The authors conclude that micro-CT is a valid technique and “incredibly reliable for anatomical studies.”

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3D ants: adding a third dimension to species documentation

The National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in India has identified two new ant species from the Andaman Islands, using micro-CT 3D imaging for morphology. Gaurav Agavekar studied the biotic and abiotic factors that are important in shaping ant community structure and teamed up with Evan Economo and Francisco Hita Garcia from the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology to construct 3D surface models of the holotypes of the new species. Despite their important roles in the ecosystem, ant biodiversity in many tropical areas remains poorly documented. With 3D reconstructions, researchers can virtually rotate, measure, section, and dissect for in-depth examination of morphological characters that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to achieve. An in-depth discussion of the use of micro-CT for ant taxonomy is presented.

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Micro-CT imaging of live insects

An interdisciplinary team of biologists and imaging specialists from Western University in London, Canada has developed a micro-CT method that offers an unprecedented new way of viewing insect development. Using carbon dioxide to place insects in a state of temporary suspended animation, the team has created spectacularly detailed, 3D views of insects’ insides—without harming them in any way. Standard techniques involved using dead insects or killing them during the imaging process but left crucial gaps in scientists’ understanding. The researchers wanted to move beyond snapshots to dynamic images of insects’ internal development.

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Blowflies use drool for evaporative cooling

Micro-CT scanning reveals a droplet in the throat-like passage near the brain of the big-eyed Chrysomya megacephala (blowfly), which appears to be part of a process blowflies used to cool themselves. By emitting a droplet of saliva, allowing it to hang in the air to lose heat, and retracting it to cool the body, the blowfly is able to reduce its body temperature four degrees Celsius below ambient temps. In most insects evaporative cooling is constrained by their impermeable exoskeleton. Their small size makes them especially susceptible to heat gain, so the blowfly has developed this novel thermoregulatory behavior. Denis Andrade from São Paulo State University’s Department of Zoology reported on the phenomenon at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.

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Related Articles:

X-ray Microscopic Inspection of a Chemically Dried Cicada

X-ray Microscopic Inspection of Insect Flight Muscles

Micro-CT of a House Fly (Musca Domestica) Using the Bruker SkyScan 1272

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