Joris van Alphen Photography

Into the Wild

Did you Know Some Insects are Warm-Blooded?

Posted September 12, 2013. Filed under: Biology, Nature, Photography. Leave a comment.

Hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) feeding from a thistle flower.

The hummingbird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) hovers with its body suspended motionless when it feeds. France.

Did you know that some insects are warm-blooded?

When this hawk moth feeds, it hovers with its body suspended motionless in the air and its wings flapping almost too fast to see. It is a treat to watch and, if you’re lucky, you may even be able to do so in your own garden.

The insect has adapted to drinking nectar in much the same way as a hummingbird has. In fact, the similarity is so striking that people often mistake it for a small hummingbird. And it goes beyond just appearance—they are similar in physiology as well. Flapping ones wings fast enough to hover, it turns out, is a very demanding thing to do. Like hummingbirds, hawk moths cope with this by raising their internal body temperature and their metabolism. In other words, they are warm-blooded, or “endothermic” as biologists prefer to call it.

When two organisms that are not closely related evolve the same traits independently, this is know as “convergent evolution”. If you haven’t heard about it before, you may be surprised to learn that it is actually quite a common phenomenon in nature.

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