In chemistry, the ratio of all dissolved solutes to the solution's volume yields the osmotic concentration. The present Review uses this chemical perspective to examine how insects deal with challenges to extracellular fluid (ECF) volume, solute content and osmotic concentration (pressure). Solute/volume plots of the ECF (hemolymph) reveal that insects tolerate large changes in all three of these ECF variables. Challenges beyond those tolerances may be ‘corrected’ or ‘compensated’. While a correction simply reverses the challenge, compensation accommodates the challenge with changes in the other two variables. Most insects osmoregulate by keeping ECF volume and osmotic concentration within a wide range of tolerance. Other insects osmoconform, allowing the ECF osmotic concentration to match the ambient osmotic concentration. Aphids are unique in handling solute and volume loads largely outside the ECF, in the lumen of the gut. This strategy may be related to the apparent absence of Malpighian tubules in aphids. Other insects can suspend ECF homeostasis altogether in order to survive extreme temperatures. Thus, ECF homeostasis in insects is highly dynamic and plastic, which may partly explain why insects remain the most successful class of animals in terms of both species number and biomass.
The authors declare no competing or financial interests.
I thank the National Science Foundation, USA, for supporting research in my laboratory for many years.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd