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J Insect Physiol. 2011 Jan;57(1):12-20. doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2010.10.004. Epub 2010 Oct 27.

Mechanisms underlying insect chill-coma.

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Department of Biology, The University of Western Ontario, London, ON, N6A 5B7, Canada.


At their critical thermal minimum (CT(min)) insects enter chill-coma, a reversible state where neuromuscular transmission and movement cease. The physiological mechanisms responsible for the insect CT(min) remain poorly understood despite the regular use of chill-coma onset and recovery as a means to assess evolved or acquired variation in low temperature tolerance. In this review, we summarize the use of chill-coma as a metric of thermal tolerance to date, and synthesise current knowledge on the nature and plasticity of lower thermal limits to present probable physiological mechanisms of cold-induced failure. Chill-coma is likely to be driven by an inability to maintain ionic homeostasis through the effects of temperature on ion-motive ATPases, ion channel gating mechanisms, and/or the lipid membrane, leading to a loss of nerve and muscle excitability.

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