A molt timer is involved in the metamorphic molt in Manduca sexta larvae

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Jul 30;110(31):12518-25. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1311405110. Epub 2013 Jul 12.


Manduca sexta larvae are a model for growth control in insects, particularly for the demonstration of critical weight, a threshold weight that the larva must surpass before it can enter metamorphosis on a normal schedule, and the inhibitory action of juvenile hormone on this checkpoint. We examined the effects of nutrition on allatectomized (CAX) larvae that lack juvenile hormone to impose the critical weight checkpoint. Normal larvae respond to prolonged starvation at the start of the last larval stage, by extending their subsequent feeding period to ensure that they begin metamorphosis above critical weight. CAX larvae, by contrast, show no homeostatic adjustment to starvation but start metamorphosis 4 d after feeding onset, regardless of larval size or the state of development of their imaginal discs. By feeding starved CAX larvae for various durations, we found that feeding for only 12-24 h was sufficient to result in metamorphosis on day 4, regardless of further feeding or body size. Manipulation of diet composition showed that protein was the critical macronutrient to initiate this timing. This constant period between the start of feeding and the onset of metamorphosis suggests that larvae possess a molt timer that establishes a minimal time to metamorphosis. Ligation experiments indicate that a portion of the timing may occur in the prothoracic glands. This positive system that promotes molting and the negative control via the critical weight checkpoint provide antagonistic pathways that evolution can modify to adapt growth to the ecological needs of different insects.

Keywords: biochronometry; ecdysone; size regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ecdysone / metabolism
  • Juvenile Hormones / metabolism*
  • Larva / physiology
  • Manduca / physiology*
  • Molting / physiology*


  • Juvenile Hormones
  • Ecdysone