Microscopy – Department of Biology - University of Copenhagen

For a long time, morphological traits were the only characters that biologists could measure in social insects. Despite revolutionary developments in DNA technology, chemical analysis, modelling and experimental design, morphological measurements still provide invaluable information that can be integrated with other techniques. CSE often uses microscopy to quantify the reproductive potential of individual ants, or to map size variation in specific morphological traits (e. g. the size of male sperm vesicles or the diameter of female metapleural glands) on to a DNA-based phylogeny of a specific group of social insects (e. g. fungus-growing ants) to reconstruct the evolutionary origin and elaboration of such traits. In recent years we increasingly use confocal microscopy and electron microscopy to clarify the positioning and putative function of intracellular bacterial symbionts.

What is it used for?

We use microscopy techniques to answer questions such as:

  • How much genetic variation is there in the size of glands with specific biological functions?
  • How variable are reproductive organs of individuals that differ in age, task or status within a colony?
  • How variable is sperm length in specific groups of social insects and how is this variation partitioned between individuals, colonies and populations?
  • How does larval morphology differ among males and females of different castes?
  • What organs or tissues are bacterial symbionts associated with?
  • How are differences in recognitions systems reflected in the structure of insect antennae?


Bacterial symbiontsFungus-growing antsHoney beesLycaenid butterflies; Megalomyrmex ants; Myrmica ants; Pathogenic fungi; Pharaoh ants; Symbiotic fungi; Army ants; Garden ants