Insects that feed solely on some restricted diet (e.g., sterile blood, plant juices, refined flour) have special cells termed mycetocytes that harbour symbiotic micro-organisms; these organisms, transmitted through the egg to the next generation, benefit their host by furnishing it with an internal source of vitamins and perhaps other essential nutrients. If the symbiotic micro-organisms are removed experimentally, an insect fails to grow if not provided with a diet rich in vitamins.
The digestive system consists of a foregut formed from the mouth region (stomodaeum), a hindgut formed similarly from the anal region (proctodaeum), and a midgut (mesenteron). The foregut and hindgut are lined by cuticle continuous with that on the body surface. The mouth is followed by the muscular pharynx, which functions in sucking and swallowing, and the esophagus, which may be enlarged to form a crop. The crop discharges into the midgut, sometimes, as in cockroaches, by way of a muscular gizzard or proventriculus. The termination of the midgut is marked by the attachment of the malpighian tubules, the chief organs of excretion. The hindgut commonly consists of a narrow ileum followed by a larger and often thick-walled rectum, which discharges at the anus.
Digestive enzymes, secreted not only by the salivary glands but also by the cells of the midgut and its diverticula, vary with the diet of the insect. The most important enzyme secreted by the salivary glands is amylase; the midgut secretes several enzymes including protease, lipase, amylase, and invertase. The products of digestion are absorbed chiefly in the midgut.
The hindgut receives food residues from the midgut as well as waste products from the malpighian tubules. The end products of nitrogen metabolism are uric acid, small amounts of amino acids, and urea; in aquatic insects, ammonium salts may be a major form for nitrogen excretion. In the rectum, the epithelial cells lining the gut wall often are enlarged, particularly in restricted areas where they form rectal glands. The epithelial cells of these glands are supplied richly with tracheae and function in the reabsorption of water and ions. The rectal contents of insects that inhabit dry environments commonly are reduced to dry fecal pellets prior to discharge. In many insects, particularly those which feed on relatively dry foods (e.g., beetles infesting stored grain), the upper segments of the malpighian tubules are bound by a sheath to the rectal surface and form a cryptonephridial system that serves to increase the capacity of the rectum for reabsorbing water and salts. The products of digestion, discharged into the hemocoele, or general body cavity, are transported by the circulatory fluid, or hemolymph, to the organs.
In my next post, i will be posting about the digestive system of reptiles.