Parallel olfactory systems in insects: anatomy and function

Annu Rev Entomol. 2010:55:399-420. doi: 10.1146/annurev-ento-112408-085442.


A striking commonality across insects and vertebrates is the recurring presence of parallel olfactory subsystems, suggesting that such an organization has a highly adaptive value. Conceptually, two different categories of parallel systems must be distinguished. In one, specific sensory organs or processing streams analyze different chemical stimuli (segregate parallel systems). In the other, similar odor stimuli are processed but analyzed with respect to different features (dual parallel systems). Insects offer many examples for both categories. For example, segregate parallel systems for different chemical stimuli are realized in specialized neuronal streams for processing sex pheromones and CO(2). Dual parallel streams related to similar or overlapping odor stimuli are prominent in Hymenoptera. Here, a clear separation of sensory tracts to higher-order brain centers is present despite no apparent differences regarding the classes or categories of olfactory stimuli being processed. In this paper, we review the situation across insect species and offer hypotheses for the function and evolution of parallel olfactory systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Insecta / anatomy & histology*
  • Insecta / physiology
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Sex Attractants / physiology*


  • Sex Attractants