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QUESTION

Why are insects so energy-efficient while flying? Is it because of their light weight and aerodynamics or due to very efficient biochemical transformations (food->energy)?

{ asked by Adolfo Perez }

ANSWER

Insect flight muscle is capable of achieving the highest metabolic rate of all animal tissues, and this tissue may be considered an exquisite example of biochemical adaptation.

Locusts, for example, may (almost instantaneously) increase their oxygen consumption up to 70-fold when starting to fly. In humans, excercise can increase O2 consumption a maximum of 20-fold, and for birds in flight the figure is about 10-fold (Wegener, 1996; Sacktor, 1976).

As Wegener (1996) has put it (in his definitive paper):

The aerobic scope (the ratio of maximal to basal rate of respiration) of insects is unrivalled in the animal kingdom

Flight is powered by ATP hydrolysis, and these impressive metabolic rates are achieved by very effective control of ATP hydrolysis and regeneration.

References

Wegener, G. (1996) Flying insects: model systems exercise physiology Experientia May 15;52(5):404-12. (See here)

Sacktor B. (1976) Biochemical adaptations for flight in the insect. Biochem Soc Symp. 1976;(41):111-31. (See here)

{ answered by TomD }
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