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Salt Balance

December 21st, 2015

Salt Balance

York University recently led a study which found that insects key to cold weather survival is keeping their salt balance in check, a finding that could help control pests in the future.

According to Heath MacMillan, the head of the York study, “insects lose the ability to maintain proper salt and water balance in they cold. When they are chilled, sodium and water move from the insect’s blood into their gut. This is bad news for the insect because it concentrates potassium in the hemolymph [blood] where it remains.”

The difference between life and death for an insect during cold weather is a matter of keeping their potassium levels low in their blood. Many insects are intolerant of large temperature swings and die shortly after exposure to the cold.

MacMillan and his collaborators believe that is insects could maintain a water and salt balance in the cold that most likely it is because the Malpighian tubules. Malpighian tubules are organs that serve roles similar to mammalian kidneys, which help mammals maintain salt and water balance.

York University studied the effects of cold exposure in five species of fruit flies all of which were collected from different locations around the globe. “The tubules of the cold tolerant insects helped to keep sodium and potassium at normal levels in the blood during cold exposure, while those of insects that are easily killed by low temperature lost their ability to properly regulate salt balance in the cold,” MacMillan said.

This study is going to be helpful where predicting how different insect species will respond to climate change. It will also be a step in finding new and safe ways to control the well species survive in winter temperature and polar climates.

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