Institut für Evolution und Ökologie

Insect morphology and evolution

Insects are the largest taxon of animals on earth; they exhibit a tremendous number of morphological solutions to functional problems such as flying, sensing, feeding, running and holding fast to surfaces. We are interested in the interface between these organisms and their physical and biological environments. Our research focuses on the functional and ecological morphology of insects, taking into account the integration of their morphology and ecology, in order to elucidate further the function of morphological structures in their ecological (environment) and evolutionary (history) context. This contributes to our understanding of whole organism function and and of the performance resulting from morphology. We also use comparative analyses to improve our knowledge of the adaptive value of morphological structures. 

In practice, we investigate mouthpart structure and function in various systems, attachment structures used for locomotion and prey-capture (inclduing the ultrastructure of the involved secretion glands), ovipositing structures and mechanisms, locomotion and sensory organs. In a broader evolutionary context, we also determine comparative head morphology including the musculature within and across insect clades (e.g. rove beetles). 

Methodologically, we employ light and electron microscopy, synchrotron microtomography and synchrotron-based X-ray cineradiography, 3D reconstruction, force measurements with force transducers and nanotribometers, highspeed videography in the context of kinematic analyses, behavioural observations, phylogenetic systematics and ecological field and laboratory experiments.

Current third-party funded projects

Project sponsor
Funding reference

Comparative functional morphology of the head of modern rove beetles (Coleoptera, Staphylinidae).

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

BE 2233/13-1

Key publications from this project

Eggs, B., Birkhold, A., Röhrle, O., Betz, O. (2018): Structure and function of the musculoskeletal ovipositor system of an ichneumonid wasp,BMC Zoology,3 (12),

Nadein, K. & Betz, O. (2018): Jumping mechanisms and performance in beetles. II. Weevils (Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Rhamphini), Arthropod Struct. Dev., 47, 131-143

Betz, O., Frenzel, M., Steiner, M., Vogt, M., Kleemeier, M., Hartwig, A., Sampalla, B., Rupp, F., Boley, M., Schmitt, C. (2017): Adhesion and friction of the smooth attachment system of the cockroach Gromphadorhina portentosa and the influence of the application of fluid adhesives, Biology Open, 6, 589-601

Koerner, L., Garamszegi, L.Z., Heethoff, M., Betz, O. (2017). Divergent morphologies of adhesive predatory mouthparts of Stenusspecies (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae) explain differences in adhesive performance and resulting prey-capture success. Zool. J. Linn. Soc., 181 (3), 500-518

Schmitt, C. & Betz, O. (2017): Morphology and ultrastructure of the tarsal adhesion organs of the Madagascar hissing cockroach Gromphadorhina portentosa, Cell and Tissue Research, 370, 243-265 

Weide, D., Thayer, M.K., Betz, O. (2014): Comparative morphology of the tentorium and hypopharyngeal-premental sclerites in sporophagous and non-sporophagous adult Aleocharinae (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae), Acta Zoologica, 95, 84-110

Betz, O. (2010): Adhesive exocrine glands in insects: morphology, ultrastructure, and adhesive secretion, in: Byern, J. & Grunwald, I. (eds.): Biological adhesive systems. From nature to technical and medical application, Springer, 111-152

Wenk, P., Lucic, S. & Betz, O. (2010): Functional anatomy of the hypopharynx and the salivary pump in the feeding apparatus of the assassin bug Rhodnius prolixus(Stål 1858) (Heteroptera: Reduviidae), Zoomorphology 129, 225-234

Betz, O., Wegst, U., Weide, D., Heethoff, M., Helfen, L., Lee, W.-K., Cloetens, P. (2007), Imaging applications of synchrotron x-ray micro-tomography in biological morphology and biomaterial science. I. General aspects of the technique and its advantages in the analysis of arthropod structure. Journal of Microscopy 227, 51-71

Betz, O., Newton, A.F. & Thayer, M.K. (2003), Comparative morphology and evolutionary pathways of the mouthparts of spore-feeding Staphylinoidea (Coleoptera), Acta Zoologica 84 (3), 179-238

Westneat, M.W., Betz, O., Blob, R.W., Fezzaa, K., Cooper, W.J., Lee, W.-K. (2003), Tracheal respiration in insects visualized with synchrotron X-ray imaging, Science 299, 558-560


Oliver Betz
  +49 7071 29 72995
room E2A14

Funded by

DFG, 2004-2006, 2013-2014 and 2019-2022

Schuler-Stiftung, 2006-2007

Humboldt-Stiftung, 2014-2016

BMBF, NOVA project, 2016-2020

People involved

Oliver Betz, Benjamin Eggs, Margarita Yavorskaya, Erich Lara Spiessberger