Arthropod Leg - Insects - Variations in Functional Anatomy of Insect Legs

Variations in Functional Anatomy of Insect Legs

The typical thoracic leg of an adult insect is adapted for running, rather than for digging, leaping, swimming, predation or the like. The legs of most cockroaches are good examples. However, there are many specialized adaptations, including:

  • The forelegs of the Gryllotalpidae and some Scarabaeidae are adapted to burrowing in earth.
  • The forelegs of the Mantispidae, Mantodea, and Phymatinae are adapted to seizing and holding prey in one way, while those of the Gyrinidae long and adapted for grasping food or prey in quite a different way.
  • The forelegs of some butterflies, such as many Nymphalidae, are reduced so greatly that only two pairs of functional walking legs remain.
  • In most Orthoptera the hind legs are saltatorial; they have heavily bipennately muscled femora and straight, long tibiae adapted to leaping and to some extent to defence by kicking. Flea beetles such as members of the subfamily Halticinae also have powerful hind femora that enable them to leap spectacularly.
  • Other beetles with spectacularly muscular hind femora may not be saltatorial at all, but very clumsy; for example, particular species of Bruchinae use their swollen hind legs for forcing their way out of the hard-shelled seeds of plants such as Erythrina in which they grew to adulthood.
  • The legs of the Odonata, the dragonflies and damselflies, are adapted for seizing prey that the insects feed on while flying or while sitting still on a plant; they are nearly incapable of using them for walking.
  • Hardly any adult aquatic insects use anything but their specially adapted legs for swimming, though many species of immature insects swim by other means, such as by wriggling, undulating, or expelling water.

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