Ontogeny of protein concentration, haemocyte concentration and antimicrobial activity against Escherichia coli in haemolymph of the invasive harlequin ladybird Harmonia axyridis (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae).
The harlequin ladybird is considered to be one of the most successful invasive insect species. Among other traits, its invasive success is considered to be caused by a powerful immune system. In the present study, we investigate the ontogenetic profile of protein concentration, concentration of circulating haemocytes and constitutive antimicrobial activity against Escherichia coli in Harmonia axyridis haemolymph during late larval development and early adult life. Protein concentration increases during the first 32 days of adult life from 45 to 100 mg per mL of haemolymph and reaches intermediate values during larval stages. The concentration of circulating haemocytes is very low (5000 haemocytes per µL of haemolymph) in late larval stages and increases strongly during first 8 days of adult life to values of approximately 30 000 haemocytes per µL of haemolymph. The killing efficiency of haemolymph against E. coli is lowest in larval stages, rapidly increases in the prepupal stage and then steadily grows during the whole period of adult life. There are no significant effects of sex on any of the investigated physiological or immune parameters. In general, the patterns observed for H. axyridis contrast with many results that are reported for other insects (e.g. bees, fruit flies, crickets or mosquitoes). One possible explanation is the contrasting life history of H. axyridis, with a fast preimaginal development and a long adult lifespan being linked to a long reproductive period. Substantial variation in physiological and immune parameters during ontogeny also has important methodological implications because individuals of exactly the same stage/age have to be employed for comparative studies.