Can insects get fat? Mosquitoes and dragonflies can, but no fruit flies.

May 12

Consider all the advantages you have over the fruit fly: You’re able to use tools, make jokes, binge-watch “Game of Thrones.”

But you know what? You can get too fat for your waistband. The fruit fly, that ubiquitous subject of scientific experimentation, cannot.


The fruit fly needn’t worry about developing love handles. (iStockphoto)

Can insects get fat?” was the question posed to the Ask Anything column at Popular Science magazine in its May issue. Dan Engberg responds with an entertaining disquisition on obese mosquitoes (a Florida entomologist hand-fed them with a tiny dropper instead of making them sting for their supper, thereby turning half their bodies into fat) and obese dragonflies (a Penn State biologist found fatter dragonflies were less successful at mating).

But as is true in many scientific inquiries, the most extensive work on fat bugs has been done on fruit flies. Fed high-calorie diets, they develop something like diabetes and die sooner than their average 30-day life span. Interestingly, once they reach adulthood, which takes about seven days, their exoskeleton hardens and stops growing. So even when they develop fat cells, their bellies can’t expand; they just pack more cells into the same space. As the column notes, those lucky flies “never lose that slender figure.”

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