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Hawkmoth Flight

February 24, 2017

Insects called hawkmoths eat enormous amounts of sugar, but they don’t use it all for energy.

Transcript

23054446513_0d45d29b1e_o Zoe Shuttleworth

A hummingbird hawkmoth hovers above a flower. (Zoe Shuttleworth/CC BY-2.0, via flickr)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

A perpetual-motion insect. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Like hummingbirds, insects called hawkmoths hover in midair, sipping sugary nectar from flowers with long, tube-like tongues.

ERAN LEVIN (University of Arizona):

If you compare the amount of sugar that hawkmoths can consume in one meal, it’s equivalent more or less for a human being to drink, like, 80 bottles of soda at once, so it’s a huge amount of sugar.

HIRSHON:

University of Arizona ecophysiologist Eran Levin says scientists once thought the hawkmoths turn all of that sugar into energy just to stay airborne. But he and his colleagues now report in Science magazine that some of it is converted into antioxidants that counteract muscle damage caused by the insects’ constant hovering. He says sugar doesn’t have the same effect on human muscles, but  the research could contribute to better treatments for people whose bodies can’t process sugar properly.  I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.