The art of being small : brain-body size scaling in minute parasitic wasps

Emma van der Woude

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Haller’s rule states that small animals have relatively larger brains than large animals. This brain-body size relationship may enable small animals to maintain similar levels of brain performance as large animals. However, it also causes small animals to spend an exceptionally large proportion of energy on the development and maintenance of energetically expensive brain tissue. The work that is presented in this thesis reveals how the smallest animals face the challenge to maintain ecologically required levels of cognitive performance, while being limited by small numbers of neurons and a restricted energy balance. Developing into a small adult has cognitive costs for the parasitic wasp Nasonia vitripennis, and relative brain size is strongly constrained in this species. The extremely small parasitic wasp Trichogramma evanescens forms an exception to Haller’s rule by showing isometric brain-body size scaling. Miniaturized insect species may apply this strategy to avoid the excessive energetic costs of relatively large brains, thereby achieving smaller brain and body sizes than would be possible in the situation that is described by Haller’s rule. This brain-scaling strategy does not result in affected memory performance of small T. evanescens compared to larger individuals, and appears to be facilitated by a large flexibility in the size of neural components, rather than in their number or structural complexity. Maintaining neural complexity may the underlying mechanism that maintains the cognitive abilities of the smallest brains, possibly at the cost of reduced longevity as a consequence of the small size of neuronal cell bodies. This strategy could form the art of being small.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Dicke, Marcel, Promotor
  • Smid, Hans, Co-promotor
Award date27 Oct 2017
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463436564
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • brain
  • insects
  • neurons
  • scaling
  • cognitive development
  • vespidae
  • parasitoid wasps
  • cum laude

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