, Volume 167, Issue 1, pp 39–48 | Cite as

Freeze fitness in alpine Tiger moth caterpillars and their parasitoids

  • T. C. HawesEmail author
  • D. A. Wharton
Physiological ecology - Original Paper


The adaptive fitness of a freeze-tolerant insect may be mediated by both endogenous and exogenous interactions. The aim of the study presented here was to characterize the freeze tolerance of alpine Tiger moth caterpillars (Metacrias huttoni) and highlight two poorly explored indices of the potential attrition of fitness: (1) downstream development and reproduction; (2) parasitism. Caterpillars survived temperatures as low as −16°C and demonstrated >90% 72-h survival after exposures to −10°C. Two-week acclimations at 5, 10, and 20°C had no effect on body water content, haemolymph osmolality or survival of equilibrium freezing, but there was a significant elevation of the temperature of crystallization (T c) in those caterpillars acclimated to 5°C. Cell viability of fat body tissue was resilient to freezing (−10 to −16°C), but midgut and tracheal cells showed significant degradation. Pupation and eclosion were unaffected by freezing at −5 or −10°C. Likewise, there were no significant differences in egg production or the proportion of eggs that hatched between control and frozen insects. By contrast, the ability of tachinid larvae to survive freezing within their hosts means that parasitism plays an important role in regulating population size. Mean parasitism of caterpillars by tachinids was 33.3 ± 7.2%. Pupation and imago emergence of tachinids after host ‘endo-nucleation’ was >75%. Eclosed adult tachinids showed a non-significant increase in the incidence of wing abnormalities in relation to low temperature exposure.


Fitness Freeze tolerance Parasitoid Lepidoptera Tachinidae 



T. C. H. was funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Thanks to Kim Garrett for field assistance, Brian Patrick for the identification of M. huttoni and John Dugdale for the identification of the tachinid.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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