Department of Entomology, Faculty of Biology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia; Joint Russian-Vietnamese Tropical Research and Technological Center, Hanoi, Viet Nam. Electronic address: [Email]
The wings of Ptiliidae, the coleopteran family containing the smallest free-living insects, are analyzed in detail for the first time. A reconstruction of the evolutionary sequence of changes associated with miniaturization is proposed. The wings of several species are described using light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. The morphology and scaling are analyzed in comparison with larger representatives of related groups. The wings of all studied ptiliids show some degree of ptiloptery (feather-like shape, typical for extremely small insects). In larger ptiliids the wing contains at least five veins, has a wide blade, and bears a marginal fringe of 200-300 setae; in the smallest species it has three veins or fewer, a narrow blade, and about 40 setae along the margin. The setae are brush-like; peculiar outgrowths, denser towards the apex, increase the effective diameter of the setae. Morphometric analysis shows that the geometry of the wings and their elements strongly differs from those of other staphyliniform beetles, suggesting that the aerodynamics of the feather-like wings may also differ distinctly from the usual pattern.