The digestion of protein and carbohydrate by the stream detritivore, Tipula abdominalis (Diptera, Tipulidae)

M. M. Martin, J. S. Martin, J. J. Kukor, R. W. Merritt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


The digestive system of larvae of Tipula abdominalis (Diptera, Tipulidae), a stream detritivore, is poorly adapted for the digestion of the major polysaccharides in its diet, but well adapted for the digestion of protein. These crane fly larvae are unable to digest the major cell wall polysaccharides of higher plants, i.e., cellulose, hemicellulose and pectin. The only polysaccharides toward which the midguts of T. abdominalis exhibited any activity were α-amylose and laminarin, indicating that polysaccharide digestion is restricted to α-1,4-and β-1,3-glucans. The most concentrated source of these two classes of carbohydrates in submerged leaf litter would be associated fungal tissue. The midgut of T. abdominalis is strongly alkaline throughout, with a maximum pH near 11.5 in a narrow zone near the midpoint. Proteolytic activity in the midgut is extraordinarily high, and the pH optimum for midgut proteolytic activity is above 11. We conclude that the high alkalinity and high proteolytic activity observed in T. abdominalis larvae are manifestations of a highly efficient protein-digesting system, a system of crucial importance to a nitrogen-limited organism which must derive its nitrogen from a resource in which much of the limited nitrogen present is in a "bound" form in complexes of proteins with lignins and polyphenols.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)360-364
Number of pages5
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1980
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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