The transition from diet to blood: Exploring homeostasis in the insect haemolymph nutrient pool

Holdbrook, Robert, Andongma, Awawing A., Randall, Joanna L., Reavey, Catherine E., Tummala, Yamini, Wright, Geraldine A., Simpson, Stephen J., Smith, Judith Alexis orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-7826-6007, Wilson, Kenneth et al (2024) The transition from diet to blood: Exploring homeostasis in the insect haemolymph nutrient pool. Physiological Entomology . ISSN 0307-6962

[thumbnail of VOR]
PDF (VOR) - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.


Official URL:


Nutrition is vital to health, but while the link between diet and body nutritional composition is well explored in humans and other vertebrates, this information is not well understood in insects, despite the vital roles they play in ecosystems, and their increasing use as experimental models. Here we used Nutritional Geometry to explore the rapid physiological response to ingested nutrients in the haemolymph nutritional profile of Spodoptera littoralis caterpillars. We ask whether blood nutrients are maintained homeostatically in the face of variable nutritional intake, or if regulation is more flexible for some nutrients than others (allostasis), which allows animals to adapt to stress by responding in a way that prioritises efficiency of responses in the face of trade-offs. Caterpillars were placed on 1 of 20 diets, systematically varying in their nutrient ratios (protein: carbohydrate) and density (calorie content), and their consumption was measured. After 48 h, caterpillars were bled, and the macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates and lipids) and nutrient metabolite (amino acids and simple sugars) content of the haemolymph was measured. Proteins comprised 93% of the haemolymph macronutrient pool on average and their concentration increased with protein eaten. The amino acid (AA) pool was dominated by five AAs, and the total pool increased with total nutrient intake. However, the ratio of essential to non-essential AAs increased as the proportion of protein consumed increased. Carbohydrates were tightly controlled, increasing only on the most extreme carbohydrate intakes. Simple sugars were dominated by glucose and trehalose, and overall, the simple sugar pool showed high levels of homeostasis. Rather than strict homeostasis of blood nutritional properties, an allostatic model seemed to be a better fit for blood nutrient regulation in this generalist herbivore. This flexibility in response to the nutritional composition of the diet may, in part, explain how this species has evolved to extreme dietary generalism and may play a role in its worldwide pest status. Given the range of fitness-related processes affected by the haemolymph, future studies should examine the physiological impacts of blood nutrient variation on reproduction, growth and response to infection and the trade-offs between them.

Repository Staff Only: item control page