The Fine Structure of Insect Glands Secreting Waxy Substances

  • Yoshio Waku
  • Imré Foldi


Chemically, waxes are defined as esters of long-chain alcohols and fatty acids. Insects are the most remarkable wax producers among terrestrial animals. Marine crustaceans like copepods utilize the waxes they synthesize as metabolic fuels necessary for a pelagic life. However, instead of being metabolized, insect waxes are inert. They accumulate on the body surface where they function to protect the insect against desiccation and mechanical damage. With respect to insects, the term wax cannot be used in the strict sense of the chemist’s definition. For example, the most familiar insect wax, beeswax, is composed to 70% esters of monocarboxylic acids and about 30% of lipoidal substances other than wax (Richards, 1978). The situation is even more complex since the combwax, which is produced by the abdominal wax gland cells, and cuticular wax, which is produced by the general epidermal cells, are different in their quantitative composition. Blomquist et al. (1980) have shown that esters are the predominant molecules in combwax, while hydrocarbons are the most abundant molecules in cuticular wax. The “greaselike waxy substance” on the cuticle of Periplaneta americana is composed of about 75% hydrocarbons and only 5% alkyl esters (Richards, 1978). As shown by these examples, the native “wax” of the insects is not a simple class of molecules but is actually a complex mixture of true waxes and other substances, especially lipids such as hydrocarbons and free fatty acids. The relative amounts of true wax are quite variable from one species to another.


Epidermal Cell Scale Insect Pore Canal Pygidial Gland Wooly Aphid 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yoshio Waku
    • 1
  • Imré Foldi
    • 2
  1. 1.Biology LaboratoryKyoto Technical UniversityMatsugasaki, Sakyo-ku, KyotoJapan
  2. 2.Department of General and Applied EntomologyNational Museum of Natural HistoryParisFrance

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