In order to fly, insects require flight muscles that constitute at least 12 to 16% of their total mass, and flight performance increases as this percentage increases. However, flight muscles are energetically and materially expensive to build and maintain, and investment in flight muscles constrains other aspects of function, particularly female fecundity. This review examines ways in which insects vary the size of their flight muscles, and how variation in the relative size and composition of flight muscles affects flight performance. Sources of variability in flight muscle size and composition include genetic differences within and between species, individual phenotypic responses to environmental stimuli, and maturational changes that occur before and during the adult stage. Insects have evolved a wide variety of ways to adjust flight muscle size and contractile performance in order to meet demands imposed by variation in life history and ecology.
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