Scientists Discover Tiny Photosynthetic Insect

A Pea Aphid

Scientists have discovered what might be one of the only creatures to use photosynthesis like a plant. Called the pea aphid, this tiny insect seems to turn sunlight into energy for daily use.

While most animals rely on energy from food to obtain adenoise triphosphate, studies have suggested that the pea aphid traps sunlight within its body to generate ATP. This complex is the cellular energy that enables the body to perform biochemical processes.

Aphids are already recognized as different from most animals in that they produce their own carotenoids- pigments that are generated by plants, microorganisms and fungi. Though the ability was originally attributed to a gene swap between the bugs and fungi, new information implies that the substance is related to the aphid’s photosynthetic abilities.

Carotenoids are one of the primary factors in an aphid’s color. Recent research has found that the aphids’ color, and carotenoid production, changes depending on environmental factors. Colder temperatures result in greener aphids with high levels of carotenoids, optimal conditions bred orange aphids with medium levels of carotenoids, and oppressive, limited environments bred white, pigment-less aphids.

A test of ATP levels in each color of aphid showed that the green ones produced more than the white, while the orange produced more when exposed to sunlight than when kept in the dark. A detailed report was published in the Scientific Reports journal just this month.


James Fishman has been involved in the world of online magazines for more than 15 years. He helped launch Sunstone Online and continues to improve the magazine as site editor and administrator. His writing focuses primarily business and technology. To be in touch with James, feel free to contact him at james[at]

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