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Diapause, when referencing animal dormancy, is the delay in development in response to regularly and recurring periods of adverse environmental conditions. It is considered to be a Physiologycal state of dormancy with very specific initiating and inhibiting conditions. Diapause is a mechanism used as a means to survive predictable, unfavorable environmental conditions, such as temperature extremes, drought, or reduced food availability. Diapause is most often observed in arthropods, especially insects, and in the embryos of many of the oviparous species of fish in the order Cyprinodontiformes.

Diapause is not only induced in an organism by specific stimuli or conditions, but once it is initiated, only certain other stimuli are capable of bringing the organism out of diapause. The latter feature is essential in distinguishing diapause as a different phenomenon from other forms of dormancy, such as stratification and hibernation.

Activity levels of diapausing stages can vary considerably among species. Diapause may occur in a completely immobile stage, such as the pupae and eggs, or it may occur in very active stages that undergo extensive migrations, such as the adult Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus. In cases where the insect remains active, feeding is reduced and reproductive development is slowed or halted.

Regulation of diapause

Diapause in insects is regulated at several levels. Environmental stimuli interact with genetic pre-programming to affect neuronal signalling, endocrine pathways, and, eventually, metabolic and enzymatic changes.


Environmental regulators of diapause generally display a characteristic seasonal pattern. In temperate regions, photoperiod is the most reliable cues of seasonal change. Depending on the season in which diapause occurs, either short or long days can act as token stimuli. Insects may also respond to changing day length as well as relative day length. Temperature may also act as a regulating factor, either by inducing diapause or, more commonly, by modifying the response of the insect to photoperiod. Insects may respond to thermoperiod, the daily fluctuations of warm and cold that correspond with night and day, as well as to absolute or cumulative temperature. Food availability and quality may also help regulate diapause. In the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria, a plant hormone called gibberellin stimulates reproductive development. During the dry season, when their food plants are in senescence and lacking gibberellin, the locusts remain immature and their reproductive tracts do not develop.


The neuroendocrine system of insects consists primarily of neurosecretory cells in the brain, the corpora cardiaca, corpora allata and the prothoracic glands. There are several key hormones involved in the regulation of diapause: juvenile hormone (JH), diapause hormone (DH), and prothoracicotropic hormone (PTTH).

Prothoracicotropic hormone stimulates the prothoracic glands to produce ecdysteroids that are required to promote development. Larval and pupal diapauses are often regulated by an interruption of this connection, either by preventing release of prothoracicotropic hormone from the brain or by failure of the prothoracic glands to respond to prothoracicotropic hormone.

The corpora allata is responsible for the production of juvenile hormone (JH). In the bean bug, Riptortus pedestris, clusters of neurons on the protocerebrum called the pars lateralis maintain reproductive diapause by inhibiting JH production by the corpora allata. Adult diapause is often associated with the absence of JH, while larval diapause is often associated with its presence.

In adults, absence of JH causes degeneration of flight muscles and atrophy or cessation of development of reproductive tissues, and halts mating behaviour. The presence of JH in larvae may prevent moulting to the next larval instar, though successive stationary moults may still occur. In the corn borer, Diatraea gradiosella, JH is required for the accumulation by the fat body of a storage protein that is associated with diapause.

Diapause hormone regulates embryonic diapause in the eggs of the silkworm moth, Bombyx mori. DH is released from the subesophageal ganglion of the mother and triggers trehalase production by the ovaries. This generates high levels of glycogen in the eggs, which is converted into the polyhydric alcohols glycerol and sorbitol. Sorbitol directly inhibits the development of the embryos. Glycerol and sorbitol are reconverted into glycogen at the termination of diapause.

Tropical diapause

Diapause in the tropics is often initiated in response to biotic rather than abiotic components. For example, food in the form of vertebrate carcasses may be more abundant following dry seasons, or oviposition sites in the form of fallen trees may be more available following rainy seasons. Also, diapause may serve to synchronize mating seasons or reduce competition, rather than to avoid unfavourable climatic conditions.

Diapause in the tropics poses several challenges to insects that are not faced in temperate zones. Insects must reduce their metabolism without the aid of cold temperatures and may be faced with increased water loss due to high temperatures. While cold temperatures inhibit the growth of fungi and bacteria, diapausing tropical insects still have to deal with these pathogens. Also, predators and parasites may still be abundant during the diapause period.

Aggregations are common among diapausing tropical insects, especially in the orders Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, and Hemiptera. Aggregations may be used as protection against predation, since aggregating species are frequently toxic and predators quickly learn to avoid them. They can also serve to reduce water loss, as seen in the fungus beetle, Stenotarsus rotundus, which forms aggregations of up to 70,000 individuals, which may be eight beetles deep. Relative humidity is increased within the aggregations and beetles experience less water loss, probably due to decreased surface area to volume ratios reducing evaporative water loss.