Metamorphosis of the ecdysis motor pattern in the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta

Karen A. Mesce, James W. Truman

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33 Scopus citations


The hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, under-goes periodic molts during its growth and metamorphosis. At the end of each molt, the old cuticle is shed by means of a hormonally-activated ecdysis behavior. The pharate adult, however, must not only shed its old cuticle but also dig itself out from its underground pupation chamber. To accomplish this, the adult performs a series of abdominal retractions and extensions; the extensions are coupled with movements of the wing bases. This ecdysis motor pattern is distinct from the slowly progressing, anteriorly-directed, abdominal peristalses expressed by ecdysing larvae and pupae. We have found that the ability to produce the larval-like ecdysis pattern is retained in the adult. Although this behavior is not normally expressed by the adult, larval-like ecdysis could be unmasked when descending neuronal inputs, originating in the pterothoracic ganglion, were removed from the unfused abdominal ganglia. Transformation of the adult-specific ecdysis pattern to the larval-like pattern was accomplished by transecting the connectives between the pterothorax and the abdomen, or by reversibly blocking neuronal activity with a cold-block. A comparative analysis of the ecdysis motor patterns expressed by larvae and by isolated adult abdomens indicates that the two motor patterns are indistinguishable, suggesting that the larval ecdysis motor pattern is retained through metamorphosis. We speculate that its underlying neural circuitry is conserved through development and later modulated to produce the novel ecdysis pattern expressed in the adult stage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-299
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1988


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