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Sexual dimorphism in the pyrgomorphid grasshopper Phymateus morbillosus: from wing morphometry and flight behaviour to flight physiology and endocrinology

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In the field, adult males of the grasshopper Phymateus morbillosus are able to fly for up to 1 min and cover up to c. 100 m, whereas females, although fully winged, are apparently unable to get airborne. Morphometric data indicate that the males are lighter, have longer wings, a higher ratio of flight muscles to body mass, and a lower wing load value than females. It was investigated whether this inability of females to fly is related to fuel storage, flight muscle enzymatic design and/or the presence and quantitative capacity of the endocrine system to mobilize fuels. In both sexes, readily available potential energy substrates are present in the haemolymph in similar concentrations, and the amount of glycogen in flight muscles and fat bodies does not differ significantly between males and females. Mass-specific activities of the enzymes GAPDH (glycolysis), HOAD (fatty acid oxidation) and MDH (citric acid cycle) in flight muscles are significantly lower in females compared with males, and mitochondria are less abundant in the flight muscles of females. There is no significant difference between the ability of the two sexes to oxidize various important substrates. Both sexes contain three adipokinetic peptides in their corpora cardiaca; the amount of each peptide in female grasshoppers is higher than in males.

Thus, despite some differences listed above, both sexes appear to have sufficient substrates and the necessary endocrine complement to engage in flight. It seems more likely, from the morphometric data above, that the chief reason for flightlessness is that P. morbillosus females cannot produce sufficient lift for flight; alternatively, the neuronal functioning associated with the flight muscles may be impaired in females.
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Keywords: Flight behaviour; Phymateus morbillosus; flight muscle mass; grasshopper; metabolite and AKH-hormone level; oxidative and enzymatic potential; sexual dimorphism; wing load values; wing morphology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Zoology Department, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa

Publication date: March 1, 2002

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