1. In arthropods, the evolution of sexual size dimorphism (SSD) may be constrained by a physiological limit on growth within each particular larval instar. A high SSD could, however, be attained if the larvae of the larger sex pass through a higher number of larval instars.
2. Based on a survey of published case studies, the present review shows that sex-related difference in the number of instars is a widespread phenomenon among insects. In the great majority of species with a sexually dimorphic instar number, females develop through a higher number of instars than males.
3. Female-biased sexual dimorphism in final sizes in species with sexually dimorphic instar number was found to considerably exceed a previously estimated median value of SSD for insects in general. This suggests a causal connection between high female-biased SSD, and additional instars in females. Adding an extra instar to larval development allows an insect to increase its adult size at the expense of prolonged larval development.
4. As in the case of additional instars, SSD is fully formed late in ontogeny, larval growth schedules and imaginal sizes can be optimised independently. No conflict between selective pressures operating in juvenile and adult stages is therefore expected.
5. In most species considered, the number of instars also varied within the sexes. Phenotypic plasticity in instar number may thus be a precondition for a sexual difference in instar number to evolve.
2007. Vol. 32, 243-256 p.