Butterflies That Expend The Most Energy Live The Longest

Credit: Pave Väisänen

 Glanville fritillary butterfly. Credit: Pave Väisänen

The more energy a creature uses, the more free radicals and other unstable, cell-damaging molecules its body produces. In many cases this can shorten the lifespan of the animal, but in the case of some butterflies, the opposite seems to be true.

The scientists published their findings in The Journal of Experimental Biology. The Glanville fritillary butterfly (Melitaea cinxia) was studied by researchers, who measured its metabolic rates. They found that whether the butterflies were lab-bound or released to island meadows in Finland, the ones who flew more energetically lived longer. The findings indicate that there is a connection between oxidative stress, the long-term buildup of free radicals and other harmful molecules, and lifespan is more complex than previously thought.

The butterfly’s ability to fly better could mean that it is in better shape, possibly due to the access of more nutritious food or individual genetics. This overrides high metabolism’s harmful side effects. They also wondered whether butterflies adapted to high-powered flight might have evolved other ways to protect themselves from their own high-speed metabolisms.

Reference: “A long life in the fast lane: positive association between peak metabolic rate and lifespan in a butterfly” by Kristjan Niitepõld and Ilkka Hanski, 15 April 2013, The Journal of Experimental Biology.
DOI: 10.1242/jeb.080739

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