Insect Development & Evolution

(E&EB 248b/548b)


When? Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:00-2:15 pm

Where? ESC 110

Who is teaching it? Dr. Antónia Monteiro

Office Hours: Friday mornings (9 to 11 am) at OML room 326A

Recomended textbook: “Insect Development and Evolution” by Bruce S. Heming. Cornell University Press. 2003.

Insects are the most diverse organisms on our planet. This course will focus on the developmental mechanisms that give rise to the spectacular diversity in insect form. We will study how changes in developmental processes may have lead to the appearance and subsequent modification of traits in particular insect lineages.

Nature and purpose of the course: This course will introduce students to some of the developmental mechanisms behind insect form and also to hypothesis about how key innovations originated in certain insect lineages. The course will follow a whole organism comparative approach focusing on developmental mechanisms understood from a growing number of experimental species including beetles, crickets and grasshoppers, moths and butterflies, bees, flies, and true bugs.

Main topics to be covered: Topics will include 1) an introduction to insect diversity and to key innovations within the insects such as wings and complete metamorphosis; 2) the embryonic development and the life cycle of the best-studied insect, Drosophila; 3) the development of the fly’s main appendages (legs and wings); 3) the embryonic development and life cycle of other insects, including groups with no or incomplete metamorphosis; 4) the role of hox genes in patterning different aspects of an insect’s morphology; 5) the hormonal control of development such as in molting and metamorphosis; 6) the interaction of environmental cues, hormones, and local patterning processes that lead to the different cast systems (as in ants and bees) and to seasonal forms; 7) the developmental control and evolution of insect wing patterns.

Format: The format will be mostly lecturing interspersed with a small component of peer-group learning exercises. Every week students will be assigned readings from the book and before class they will discuss a single question about the reading in small groups of 3 or 4. This will get them energized and ready to learn more about the topic in the remainder of the class. Graduate students that enroll in the course will be asked to prepare a 10-page research proposal on a topic of their choice.

Course prerequisites: Course level is at the200-500 level for both undergraduates and graduate students. Recommended preparatory courses are Principles of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB 120a), or Principles of Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior (E&EB 122b), or Genetics (MCDB 200a).

Course Syllabus

Introduction to course
Diversity of insects: taxonomy and major insect lineages
Ecological hypothesis about insect diversity and key innovations within the insects
Embryogenesis in flies - maternal effect genes, gap, pair-rule, and segment polarity genes
Embryogenesis in flies - Hox genes and the insect body plan
Variation in embryonic development across insects
Wing and leg development in flies
Ubx and 3rd thoraxic segment transformations (leg variation across insects)
Ubx and 3rd thoraxic segment transformations (wing variation across insects)
The origin of wings
Insect hormones – classic experiments
Insect hormones – molecular mechanisms
Midterm exam
Phenotypic plasticity in social insects
Phenotypic plasticity in non-social insects
Control of growth in imaginal discs and allometric relationships
The origin of metamorphosis
The immune system
Regeneration and wounding
The origin of wing scales and color patterns
Evolution of lepidopteran wing patterns – micro changes
Evolution lepidopteran wing patterns – macro changes
Modularity of patterns within butterfly wings
The insect visual system
Tools to test gene function in insects #1
Tools to test gene function in insects #2

Grades for the course will be based on the following:


Graduate students

Mid-term exam

100 points

100 points

Final exam

100 points

100 points


200 points

200 points