Cuticle Hydration

Blow Fly Larvae

Blow Fly Larvae have clear flexible cuticle.

Entomologists have long known that the cuticle of recently killed insects is flexible allowing appendages to be moved. Upon drying, the cuticle becomes stiff and brittle. Dried insects can be partially rehydrated by placing them in a chamber with high humidity. Water content has a major influnce on cuticle properties. Fraenkel and Rudall* studied the cuticle of blowflies to gain a better understanding of the changes to the cuticle. Before molting to a pupa the cuticle of the last larval instar shrinks longitudinally, expands in circumference and transforms from the clear flexible cuticle of the larva into the opaque, darkened and rigid cuticle of the puparium.

The cuticle of the larva and the cuticle of the puparium are the same cuticle, before and after modification. Part of the stiffness is due to loss of water. Larval cuticle is about 60% water. Puparium cuticle is 12 percent water. Insect cuticle consists primarily of long protein and chitin chains that can form hydrogen bonds. Hydration allows the protein and chitin chains to move relative to each other in response to stress on the cuticle (flexibility). In the larva, the chains can move relatively freely providing maximum flexibility. In the puparium cuticle, the protein and chitin chains are chemically linked by covalent bonds that do not dissociate in the presence of water. The covalent bonds provide resistance to movement by protein and chitin chains but do not limit movement altogether. The water that is present allows some movement of the chains relative to each other. In the absence of water these chains are frozen in place and cannot move relative to each other. Dried cuticle is brittle and inflexible incapable of many small movements at the molecular scale that can accommodate stress on the cuticle. In dried cuticle stress causes the cuticle to break at its weak points.

*G. Fraenkel and K. M. Rudall. 1940. A Study of the Physical and Chemical Properties of the Insect Cuticle. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 1940 129: 1-35.
doi: 10.1098/rspb.1940.0027

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Biomaterials, by jjneal. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s