Polyphenism in insects. Academic Article uri icon


  • Polyphenism is the phenomenon where two or more distinct phenotypes are produced by the same genotype. Examples of polyphenism provide some of the most compelling systems for the study of epigenetics. Polyphenisms are a major reason for the success of the insects, allowing them to partition life history stages (with larvae dedicated to feeding and growth, and adults dedicated to reproduction and dispersal), to adopt different phenotypes that best suit predictable environmental changes (seasonal morphs), to cope with temporally heterogeneous environments (dispersal morphs), and to partition labour within social groups (the castes of eusocial insects). We survey the status of research onsome of the best known examples of insect polyphenism, in each case considering the environmental cues that trigger shifts in phenotype, the neurochemical and hormonal pathways that mediate the transformation, the molecular genetic and epigenetic mechanisms involved in initiating and maintaining the polyphenism, and the adaptive and life-history significance of the phenomenon. We conclude by highlighting some of the common featuresof these examples and consider future avenues for research on polyphenism.

published proceedings

  • Curr Biol

altmetric score

  • 33.522

author list (cited authors)

  • Simpson, S. J., Sword, G. A., & Lo, N.

citation count

  • 255

complete list of authors

  • Simpson, Stephen J||Sword, Gregory A||Lo, Nathan

publication date

  • September 2011