Surface structure, model and mechanism of an insect integument adapted to be damaged easily
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Background: Several sawfly larvae of the Tenthredinidae (Hymenoptera) are called easy bleeders because their whole body integument, except the head capsule, disrupts very easily at a given spot, under a slight mechanical stress at this spot. The exuding haemolymph droplet acts as a feeding deterrent towards invertebrate predators. The present study aimed to describe the cuticle surface, to consider it from a mechanistic point of view, and to discuss potential consequences of the integument surface in the predator-prey relationships. Results: The integument surface of sawfly larvae was investigated by light microscopy (LM) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) which revealed that the cuticle of easy bleeders was densely covered by what we call "spider-like" microstructures. Such microstructures were not detected in non-easy bleeders. A model by finite elements of the cuticle layer was developed to get an insight into the potential function of the microstructures during easy bleeding. Cuticle parameters (i.e., size of the microstructures and thickness of the epi-versus procuticle) were measured on integument sections and used in the model. A shear force applied on the modelled cuticle surface led to higher stress values when microstructures were present, as compared to a plan surface. Furthermore, by measuring the diameter of a water droplet deposited on sawfly larvae, the integument of several sawfly species was determined as hydrophobic (e.g., more than Teflon®), which was related to the sawfly larvae's ability to bleed easily. Conclusion: Easy bleeders show spider-like microstructures on their cuticle surface. It is suggested that these microstructures may facilitate integument disruption as well as render the integument hydrophobic. This latter property would allow the exuding haemolymph to be maintained as a droplet at the integument surface.