We investigated the substrates for flight in the blister beetle Decapotoma lunata by (a) establishing the patterns of maximum activities of enzymes of various metabolic pathways in the flight muscles, (b) measuring the respiratory rates of flight muscle mitochondria with various substrates and (c) determining metabolite concentrations in flight muscles and haemolymph during a flight period of up to 17 min and over a rest period of up to 2 h following 10 min of flight. Activities of enzymes involved in proline metabolism (glutamate dehydrogenase, alanine aminotransferase, malic enzyme) were much higher in the blister beetle than in the migratory locust Locusta migratoria, whereas the activity of an enzyme responsible for fatty acid oxidation (ss-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase) was much lower. Mitochondria from flight muscles of D. lunata have a much higher capacity to oxidise proline than those from L. migratoria. The glycerophosphate shuttle, however, was equally active in both insects. Whereas lipid levels in the haemolymph did not change significantly during flight, there was a continuous decrease in proline levels from 34.8 to 6.6 micromol ml-1 and a simultaneous increase in alanine concentration; carbohydrate levels dropped from 20.1 to 12.2 mg ml-1. In the thorax (flight muscles), glycogen levels were diminished between 2 and 17 min of flight from 25.9 to 6.7 micromol glucose equivalents g-1 fresh mass. Proline concentration dropped continuously from an initial 49.5 to 10.1 micromol g-1 fresh mass, whereas alanine levels rose concomitantly from 2.9 to 17.3 micromol g-1 fresh mass. After termination of a 10 min flight, pre-flight levels of proline in the haemolymph and flight muscles were only re-established after 2 h. In contrast, glycogen levels in the thorax were restored after 1 h. Using the rates of utilisation of substrates during the first 10 min of flight to calculate rates of oxygen consumption during flight, it was shown that overall haemolymph substrates contribute 75 % and those of the flight muscles only 25 %. Although proline is an important substrate for flight in D. lunata, its role is secondary to that of carbohydrates. This type of substrate usage is different from that of the Colorado potato beetle Leptinotarsa decemlineata or the African fruit beetle Pachnoda sinuata, in which carbohydrates are of negligible or only slight importance, respectively.

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