Nectar-feeding animals have among the highest recorded metabolic rates. High aerobic performance is linked to oxidative damage in muscles. Antioxidants in nectar are scarce to nonexistent. We propose that nectarivores use nectar sugar to mitigate the oxidative damage caused by the muscular demands of flight. We found that sugar-fed moths had lower oxidative damage to their flight muscle membranes than unfed moths. Using respirometry coupled with δ13C analyses, we showed that moths generate antioxidant potential by shunting nectar glucose to the pentose phosphate pathway (PPP), resulting in a reduction in oxidative damage to the flight muscles. We suggest that nectar feeding, the use of PPP, and intense exercise are causally linked and have allowed the evolution of powerful fliers that feed on nectar.
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