Year of the Sphingidae – Model Organisms

We’ve discussed the role of Sphingidae as pollinators and their importance to science as model for MAVs. Today we’ll learn about a specific hawkmoth called Manduca sexta.

Manduca sexta, the tobacco hornworm is one of the most recognizable hawkmoths around. The adults are large and have colorfully striped bodies. The caterpillars feed on solanaceous plants like tobacco and tomatoes so they are often found in backyard gardens. Although the caterpillars can be pests, the adults act as pollinators.

manduca stages
M. sexta adult, larva and pupa   Photo (c) Richard Vogt

 M. sexta also plays a role in laboratory settings. The caterpillars are used as model organisms. Model organisms are species that are studied in order to understand biology. Discoveries made in model organisms can provide insight into the biology of other organisms, mostly humans.

M. sexta  is a good model organism because the caterpillars are large, have a quick life cycle and are easy to rear in the lab. They have been used in studies of neurobiology, physiology flight mechanics, nicotine resistance, and embryological development.

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