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I am curious to know if insect muscles become stronger with exercise, because I have seen many insects get tired out, but I have never seen one get stronger. They always seem to become permanently weakened from excessive exercise. Do they get stronger like people do?

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Would be interested to know how you might "see" one get stronger. As is the case with most wild animals, generally existing (scavenging, hunting, browsing, etc) requires exercise, and barring illness or old age, most animals are likely to be fit, but not fitter than necessary - building muscles becomes a waste of time after a certain point. –  naught101 Feb 8 '12 at 14:19

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There are instances of insect muscle growth in response to increased use. The flight muscles of the tsetse fly (Glossina morsitans) have been observed to grow at a faster rate when subjected to enforced exercise (Anderson and Finlayson, 1976). Also larger mandibular adductor muscles (which power the feeding apparatus), and associated head capsule have been noted for caterpillars and grasshoppers feeding on particularly hard grasses (Bernays, 1986). However these examples occur immediately post-eclosion (i.e. after emergence as adults), and during immature stages respectively. Insect muscle typically grows during larval/nymphal (immature) stages, and often for a brief period at the start of adulthood - known as the teneral period. During immature stages, insects typically have a flexible membrane to allow for tissue growth and expansion, this can also be the case during the teneral period, before the inflexible exoskeleton has fully hardened. However at full maturity, insect growth is limited by the rigidity of their exoskeleton.

As far as excessive exercise is concerned, that some insects may be weakened permanently may be more to do with the fact that their life strategy is different to ours. Due to the vast number of offspring per adult, and subsequent low survival chance of any given individual, there could be an evolutionary advantage for individuals pushing themselves to possibly deadly extremes. This could lead to many deaths, whilst retaining a viable population and thus accelerate the emergence of a population of fitter individuals.

References

  • Anderson, M. & Finlayson, L.H., 1976. The effect of exercise on the growth of mitochondria and myofibrils in the flight muscles of the tsetse fly, Glossina morsitans. Journal of Morphology, 150(2), pp.321-326.
  • Bernays, E.A., 1986. Diet-Induced Head Allometry among Foliage-Chewing Insects and its Importance for Graminivores. Science, 231(4737), pp.495-497.
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What about the butterfly ripping out from the chrysalis? –  Gabriel Fair Feb 4 '12 at 4:55

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