Can Bugs Get Diabetes?

During Diabetes Awareness Month a lot of attention is put on the increasing rate of illness among Americans. Our love for sugar, among a number of other factors, has made type 2 diabetes spike in the country.

It made us curious about how other animals react to sugar. Many insects are notorious for their sugar tooth, but can they get diabetes?


Insects Have Insulin

One thing that has led entomologists to look into the insect diet/diabetes connection is the presence of insulin. Insulin is one of two hormones produced by the pancreas to control blood sugar in humans.

Insects such as ants and fruit flies do produce an insulin-like substance. This has prompted some to suggest there are insects that could potentially have type 1 diabetes.


Some Pests Can Pack on Pounds . . . or More Like Ounces

Research as far back as the 1960s has shown some insects can gain weight. Mosquitoes, fruit flies and dragonflies are in that group of porker pests. As we now know, obesity is a risk factor for diabetes.

It’s the scientific research done on obese fruit fly larvae that has generated interest in insect diabetes. Researchers at Washington University fattened up fruit fly larvae with a variety of food sources. The flies that had a high sugar diet showed symptoms similar to diabetes. Ultimately, those fruit flies had shorter lifespans.

One key difference between humans and insects is the latter’s exoskeleton. Even if an adult insect fattens up the exoskeleton keeps the body in a specific shape.


Pests Mimic the Pancreas

Bugs don’t have a pancreas like humans. But their hormone producing cells do act in a similar way. Just as in humans, these cells and hormones tell the insect’s body to store sugar as fat after eating.

When researchers destroyed the insulin-producing cells the insects didn’t get a signal to store sugar, which sent blood sugar skyrocketing. Then they destroyed the glucagon-producing cells, the other hormone that controls sugar. This sent the flies’ blood sugar plummeting to the point of hypoglycemia. It’s the same type of reaction that would be expected in humans.


How Insects Are Helping Fight Diabetes

As doctors and researchers work to find a cure for diabetes, their research has taken them in many directions. In the past, insects have been studied to better analyze the production of insulin and glucagon.

As far back as 2004 Stanford University set about studying how fruit flies produced insulin and glucagon. They not only found similarities between insect and human production, they noticed another connection. Fruit flies have a protein in glucagon and insulin-producing cells called the sulfonylurea receptor (Sur). Sur acts in a manner similar to proteins in humans that signal cells to release insulin or glucagon.

The hope is that by studying primordial pancreatic systems in insects we’ll get a better understanding of how hormone production works in humans.

So do bugs get diabetes? Right now that research suggests it doesn’t occur naturally, but because of similar hormonal functioning it can be induced in some insects.

We may not be able to cure diabetes, but Vulcan Termite and Pest Control Inc. can help you get rid of an infestation in Central Alabama. Give us a call today to find out how we can handle both yard pests and household insects at your property.