When we study insects, we constantly struggle to observe extremely small organs. In a study published in the Journal of Insect Science, researchers at the University of Florida have found that while old technology is still valuable, the newer methods of micro-CT scanning and laser ablation tomography offer some unique advantages.
They wanted to better understand the structure of the mycangia of ambrosia beetles. Mycangia are hollow structures within the bodies of ambrosia beetles that carry the fungus that pioneering beetles need to grow their food in a newly established gallery. As the beetles chew tunnels through wood, the fungus they carried begins to grow within the wood, and this is what the beetles eat. However, a simple challenge in studying ambrosia beetles is their size: At most they grow to just a few millimeters in length, and thus a mycangium may measure just a few tenths of a millimeter across.
Newer imaging methods such as micro-CT scanning and laser ablation tomography produce 3D computer models of these small organs. Micro-CT, in particular, stood out for several reasons. It is a very fast process that allowed them to see three-dimensional structures in reference to other internal structures. It also left specimens intact and available for other forms of study whereas other methods require the destruction or disassembly of the sample. Read more about this study at Entomology Today.