, Volume 208, Issue 2, pp 69-81

Development of polyembryonic insects: a major departure from typical insect embryogenesis

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 The parasitic wasp Copidosoma floridanum represents the most extreme form of polyembryonic development known, forming up to 2000 embryos from a single egg. To understand the mechanisms of embryonic patterning in polyembryonic wasps and the evolutionary changes that led to this form of development we have analyzed embryonic development at the cellular level using confocal and scanning electron microscopy. C. floridanum embryogenesis can be divided into three phases: (1) early cleavage that leads to formation of a primary morula, (2) a proliferative phase that involves partitioning of embryonic cells into thousands of morulae, and (3) morphogenesis whereby individual embryos develop into larvae. This developmental program represents a major departure from typical insect embryogenesis, and we describe several features of morphogenesis unusual for insects. The early development of polyembryonic wasps, which likely evolved in association with a shift in life history to endoparasitism, shows several analogies with mammalian embryogenesis, including early separation of extraembryonic and embryonic cell lineages, formation of a morula and embryonic compaction. However, the late morphogenesis of polyembryonic wasps proceeds in a fashion conserved in all insects. Collectively, this suggests a lack of developmental constraints in early development, but a strong conservation of the phylotypic stage.

Received: 27 June 1997 / Accepted: 11 January 1998