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J Exp Biol. 2018 Mar 7;221(Pt Suppl 1). pii: jeb161836. doi: 10.1242/jeb.161836.

The many roles of fats in overwintering insects.

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Department of Biology, University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada N6A 5B7
Department of Biology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73609, USA.


Temperate, polar and alpine insects generally do not feed over winter and hence must manage their energy stores to fuel their metabolism over winter and to meet the energetic demands of development and reproduction in the spring. In this Review, we give an overview of the accumulation, use and conservation of fat reserves in overwintering insects and discuss the ways insects modify fats to facilitate their selective consumption or conservation. Many insects are in diapause and have depressed metabolic rates over winter; together with low temperatures, this means that lipid stores are likely to be consumed predominantly in the autumn and spring, when temperatures are higher but insects remain dormant. Although there is ample evidence for a shift towards less-saturated lipids in overwintering insects, switches between the use of carbohydrate and lipid stores during winter have not been well-explored. Insects usually accumulate cryoprotectants over winter, and the resulting increase in haemolymph viscosity is likely to reduce lipid transport. For freeze-tolerant insects (which withstand internal ice), we speculate that impaired oxygen delivery limits lipid oxidation when frozen. Acetylated triacylglycerols remain liquid at low temperatures and interact with water molecules, providing intriguing possibilities for a role in cryoprotection. Similarly, antifreeze glycolipids may play an important role in structuring water and ice during overwintering. We also touch on the uncertain role of non-esterified fatty acids in insect overwintering. In conclusion, lipids are an important component of insect overwintering energetics, but there remain many uncertainties ripe for detailed exploration.


Antifreeze; Cold tolerance; Energetics; Freeze tolerance; Lipid; Triglyceride

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