Exoskeletal chitin scales isometrically with body size in terrestrial insects



The skeletal system of animals provides the support for a variety of activities and functions. For animals such as mammals, which have endoskeletons, research has shown that skeletal investment (mass) scales with body mass to the 1.1 power. In this study, we ask how exoskeletal investment in insects scales with body mass. We measured the body mass and mass of exoskeletal chitin of 551 adult terrestrial insects of 245 species, with dry masses ranging from 0.0001 to 2.41 g (0.0002–6.13 g wet mass) to assess the allometry of exoskeletal investment. Our results showed that exoskeletal chitin mass scales isometrically with dry body mass across the Insecta as Mchitin = a Mmath image, where b = 1.03 ± 0.04, indicating that both large and small terrestrial insects allocate a similar fraction of their body mass to chitin. This isometric chitin-scaling relationship was also evident at the taxonomic level of order, for all insect orders except Coleoptera. We additionally found that the relative exoskeletal chitin investment, indexed by the coefficient, a, varies with insect life history and phylogeny. Exoskeletal chitin mass tends to be proportionally less and to increase at a lower rate with mass in flying than in nonflying insects (Mflying insect chitin = −0.56 × Mmath image; Mnonflying insect chitin = −0.55 × Mmath image), and to vary with insect order. Isometric scaling (b = 1) of insect exoskeletal chitin suggests that the exoskeleton in insects scales differently than support structures of most other organisms, which have a positive allometry (b > 1) (e.g., vertebrate endoskeleton, tree secondary tissue). The isometric pattern that we document here additionally suggests that exoskeletal investment may not be the primary limit on insect body size. J. Morphol., 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.