Insects are at high risk of desiccation because of their small size, high surface-area-to-volume ratio, and air-filled tracheal system that ramifies throughout their bodies to transport O2 and CO2 to and from respiring cells. Although the tracheal system offers a high-conductance pathway for the movement of respiratory gases, it has the unintended consequence of allowing respiratory transpiration to the atmosphere. When resting, many species exchange respiratory gases discontinuously, and an early hypothesis for the origin of these discontinuous gas exchange cycles (DGCs) is that they serve to reduce respiratory water loss. In this study, we test this "hygric" hypothesis by comparing rates of CO2 exchange and water loss among flower beetles Protaetia cretica (Cetoniinae, Scarabaeidae) breathing either continuously or discontinuously. We show that, consistent with the expectations of the hygric hypothesis, rates of total water loss are higher during continuous gas exchange than during discontinuous gas exchange and that the ratio of respiratory water loss to CO2 exchange is lower during discontinuous gas exchange. This conclusion is in agreement with other studies of beetles and cockroaches that also support the hygric hypothesis. However, this result does not exclude other adaptive hypotheses supported by work on ants and moth pupae. This ambiguity may arise because there are multiple independent evolutionary origins of DGCs and no single adaptive function underlying their genesis. Alternatively, the observed reduction in water loss during DGCs may be a side effect of a nonadaptive gas exchange pattern that is elicited during periods of inactivity.
Matthews, P. G. D., & White, C. R. (2012). Discontinuous gas exchange, water loss, and metabolism in Protaetia cretica (Cetoniinae, Scarabaeidae). Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 85(2), 174-182. https://doi.org/10.1086/664590