, Volume 100, Issue 11, pp 1083-1093,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Time management and nectar flow: flower handling and suction feeding in long-proboscid flies (Nemestrinidae: Prosoeca)


A well-developed suction pump in the head represents an important adaptation for nectar-feeding insects, such as Hymenoptera, Lepidoptera and Diptera. This pumping organ creates a pressure gradient along the proboscis, which is responsible for nectar uptake. The extremely elongated proboscis of the genus Prosoeca (Nemestrinidae) evolved as an adaptation to feeding from long, tubular flowers. According to the functional constraint hypothesis, nectar uptake through a disproportionately elongated, straw-like proboscis increases flower handling time and consequently lowers the energy intake rate. Due to the conspicuous length variation of the proboscis of Prosoeca, individuals with longer proboscides are hypothesised to have longer handling times. To test this hypothesis, we used field video analyses of flower-visiting behaviour, detailed examinations of the suction pump morphology and correlations of proboscis length with body length and suction pump dimensions. Using a biomechanical framework described for nectar-feeding Lepidoptera in relation to proboscis length and suction pump musculature, we describe and contrast the system in long-proboscid flies. Flies with longer proboscides spent significantly more time drinking from flowers. In addition, proboscis length and body length showed a positive allometric relationship. Furthermore, adaptations of the suction pump included an allometric relationship between proboscis length and suction pump muscle volume and a combination of two pumping organs. Overall, the study gives detailed insight into the adaptations required for long-proboscid nectar feeding, and comparisons with other nectar-sucking insects allow further considerations of the evolution of the suction pump in insects with sucking mouthparts.

Communicated by: Beverley Glover