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J Microsc. 2003 Nov;212(Pt 2):107-21.

Three-dimensional visualization of insect morphology using confocal laser scanning microscopy.

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Microscopy and Imaging Facility, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY 10024, USA.


Cuticular structures of insects are often microscopic and intricately complex; among the most complex structures are male genitalia. Genitalic structures are essential in taxonomic and phylogenetic studies of insects. Using well-described species from two disparate dipteran genera, we demonstrate the utility of confocal laser scanning microscopy for studying the morphological characters of fly genitalia by taking advantage of the autofluorescent properties of cuticle material. Reconstructions of confocal data sets obtained from genitalic structures embedded in two commonly used entomological mounting media (euparal and glycerin jelly) are presented. Aberration artefacts often observed in confocal data obtained from thick specimens were analysed and strategies for their minimization are discussed. Our results indicate that confocal laser scanning microscopy and 3D reconstruction are excellent techniques for visualizing small, complex, autofluorescent structures in flies. These techniques could have a profound impact on the quality of information provided by 3D representations of insect structures over more traditional methods of visualization.

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