Early-life experiences have strong and long-lasting consequences for behavior in a surprising diversity of animals. Determining which environmental inputs cause behavioral change, how this information becomes neurobiologically encoded, and the functional consequences of these changes remain fundamental puzzles relevant to diverse fields from evolutionary biology to the health sciences. Here we explore how insects provide unique opportunities for comparative study of developmental behavioral plasticity. Insects have sophisticated behavior and cognitive abilities, and they are frequently studied in their natural environments, which provides an ecological and adaptive perspective that is often more limited in lab-based vertebrate models. A range of cues, from relatively simple cues like temperature to complex social information, influence insect behavior. This variety provides experimentally tractable opportunities to study diverse neural plasticity mechanisms. Insects also have a wide range of neurodevelopmental trajectories while sharing many developmental plasticity mechanisms with vertebrates. In addition, some insects retain only subsets of their juvenile neuronal population in adulthood, narrowing the targets for detailed study of cellular plasticity mechanisms. Insects and vertebrates share many of the same knowledge gaps pertaining to developmental behavioral plasticity. Combined with the extensive study of insect behavior under natural conditions and their experimental tractability, insect systems may be uniquely qualified to address some of the biggest unanswered questions in this field.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, v. 15, article 660464.

© 2021 Westwick and Rittschof

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Funding Information

This work was supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture Hatch Program (accession number 1012993, CR) and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research Pollinator Health Fund (549049, CR).