The Size Of A Meal

The size of a meal, assuming the food supply to be unlimited, depends on the net phagostimulatory effects of the food and the nutrient requirements of the insect. Net phagostimulatory effect is the balance between nutrient components of the food that stimulate taste receptors leading to feeding and any other factors, such as the presence of toxic compounds or undue hardness, that tend to inhibit feeding. For many insects, sugars are major phagostimulants and higher concentrations in the food result in larger meals. Amino acids

FIGURE 4 Model of the control of feeding in a locust eating wheat. Similar principles are believed to apply to other insects. The irregular line shows the level of feeding excitation (the central excitatory state). When this exceeds a threshold, the insect feeds. Notice that after a meal, the excitatory state declines sharply. Subsequently it rises slowly and the level oscillates with a period of about 15 min. Defecation (upwardly pointing arrows) causes a sudden rise in excitation. If this causes excitation to exceed the threshold, the insect may feed. Biting the food (oblique arrows) releases juices from the food and phagostimulants cause a sharp rise in the central excitatory state. (Reproduced, with permission, from Simpson, 1995.)

FIGURE 4 Model of the control of feeding in a locust eating wheat. Similar principles are believed to apply to other insects. The irregular line shows the level of feeding excitation (the central excitatory state). When this exceeds a threshold, the insect feeds. Notice that after a meal, the excitatory state declines sharply. Subsequently it rises slowly and the level oscillates with a period of about 15 min. Defecation (upwardly pointing arrows) causes a sudden rise in excitation. If this causes excitation to exceed the threshold, the insect may feed. Biting the food (oblique arrows) releases juices from the food and phagostimulants cause a sharp rise in the central excitatory state. (Reproduced, with permission, from Simpson, 1995.)

may also influence the phagostimulatory input. Plant secondary compounds, such as alkaloids, are often feeding deterrents even for insects, such as the blow fly, whose food does not normally contain them. Inorganic salts at higher concentrations are also deterrent although at low concentrations they may stimulate feeding. Phagostimulatory compounds do not just switch on feeding that then continues until the insect is replete; their continued input is necessary for feeding to continue and the behavior of some insects appears to reflect this. Chemosensory receptors usually adapt within a few seconds if continually stimulated, but the palpation behavior of grasshoppers and caterpillars appears to permit a continual flow of information by bringing the receptors into contact with the food for frequent very brief periods. The sensilla on the palp tips of a locust make about 10 contacts per second and each contact may be only 10 to 20 ms. As a result they remain largely unadapted.

Although continual stimulation is important to maintain feeding, meal size seems to be determined by the level of phagostimulation when the insect first bites into its food and releases the internal fluids containing a mixture of stimulating chemicals. This was demonstrated by an experiment in which the mouthpart chemoreceptors of locusts were stimulated with a highly phagostimulatory solution that they were not allowed to ingest. These insects subsequently ate larger meals than others stimulated with water alone, despite the fact that during the meal the receptors of both sets of insects were equally stimulated. Events before feeding started determined how much was eaten. Comparable experiments have shown that distasteful compounds can reduce meal size. Such experiments are interpreted as reflecting changes in the central excitatory state. A high concentration of phagostimulant is believed to elevate the central excitatory state well above threshold and feeding continues, provided some level of input is maintained, until the excitatory state declines to threshold. Thus, the higher the initial level, the longer it takes the excitatory state to reach threshold and the larger is the meal. It is supposed that a high level of deterrent compounds would inhibit feeding by depressing the level of the central excitatory state below threshold.

The elevated level of the central excitatory state is also believed to account for the "dances" of flies and the palpation behavior of locusts and grasshoppers following loss of contact with food early in a meal. When a fly loses contact with a drop of sugar it moves in an irregular path with frequent turns as if "searching" for the food. The more concentrated the solution, the more frequent the turns (Fig. 5A). If a locust loses contact with its food it palpates vigorously and such behavior lasts longer if loss of contact occurs earlier in a meal. Toward the end of a meal, loss of contact with the food results in only a limited period of palpation (Fig. 5B). The so-called searching behavior of other insects, such as that described for coccinellid larvae when feeding on aphids and temporarily losing contact with the prey, probably has a similar basis.

FIGURE 5 Searching for food after loss of contact during a meal. (A) Blow flies dance when they lose contact with a drop of sugar. After experiencing more concentrated sugar solutions the high rate of turning is much more sustained. [Reprinted, with permission, from Dethier, V. G. (1957). Communication by insects: Physiology of dancing. Science 125, 331-336. Copyright 1957 American Association for the Advancement of Science.] (B) The migratory locust palpates when it loses contact with a blade of grass. Each bar represents the percentage of time palpating after losing contact with the food at a different stage of the meal. Soon after the start of a meal it palpates for most of the time, but toward the end of a meal it is less persistent. The open bar represents the time palpating just before starting to feed. [Reprinted, with permission, from Bernays, E. A., and Chapman, R. F. (1974). The regulation of food intake by acridids. In "Experimental Analysis of Insect Behaviour" (L. Barton Browne, ed.). Springer-Verlag, Berlin. Copyright Springer-Verlag.]

FIGURE 5 Searching for food after loss of contact during a meal. (A) Blow flies dance when they lose contact with a drop of sugar. After experiencing more concentrated sugar solutions the high rate of turning is much more sustained. [Reprinted, with permission, from Dethier, V. G. (1957). Communication by insects: Physiology of dancing. Science 125, 331-336. Copyright 1957 American Association for the Advancement of Science.] (B) The migratory locust palpates when it loses contact with a blade of grass. Each bar represents the percentage of time palpating after losing contact with the food at a different stage of the meal. Soon after the start of a meal it palpates for most of the time, but toward the end of a meal it is less persistent. The open bar represents the time palpating just before starting to feed. [Reprinted, with permission, from Bernays, E. A., and Chapman, R. F. (1974). The regulation of food intake by acridids. In "Experimental Analysis of Insect Behaviour" (L. Barton Browne, ed.). Springer-Verlag, Berlin. Copyright Springer-Verlag.]

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