Factors That Limit Size

The smallest insects will have difficulty making room for the internal organs that are necessary for their existence. For example, some ptiliid beetles can lay only one egg at the time because their eggs may be up to 0.7 times the size of the whole insect.

The largest size an insect can reach is limited by the tracheal system. In insects, gas exchange with air is mediated directly to the tissues by a highly branched system of chitin-lined tubes called tracheae. No cells in the insect body are more than 2 to 3 ^m from a tracheole. Diffusion along a concentration gradient can supply enough oxygen for small insects, but forms that weigh more than about a gram, or are highly active, require some degree of ventilation. Most insects have ventilating mechanisms to move air in and out through the tracheal system, but the need to allow enough oxygen to reach the tissue by diffusion imposes limits on tracheal length. Most large insects present today have long slender bodies, a trait that also limits tracheal length. Furthermore, elaborations of the tracheal system could not be made without destroying the water balance in large insects. However, there are exceptions: some of the heaviest extant beetles have bulky bodies, but these insects are not (or do not have to be) very quick and do not fly.

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