Insects   All Materials © Cmassengale  

Phylum Arthropoda        Subphylum Uniramia          Class Insecta


  • Largest arthropod group
  • Found in freshwater & terrestrial habitats, especially tropical areas
  • Legs, mouthparts, & antenna jointed
  • Body segmented into three sections — head, thorax, & abdomen
  • Six legs & up to two pairs of wings located on thorax
  • Have compound & simple eyes
  • One pair of antennae on head
  • Abdomen has 11 segments
  • Exoskeleton, covering & protecting body, is made of chitin & must be molted to grow
  • Elaborate mouthparts include:
         *  Mandibles – jaws
       Maxillae – paired sensory structures that move food to mouth
      Labium – lower lip
      Labrum – upper lip
      Palpi – used for tasting
  • Known as mandibulates
  • Spiracles on abdomen open into tracheal tubes for oxygen & carbon dioxide exchange
  • Tympanic membranes on 1st abdominal segment aid in hearing
  • Thorax divided into 3 sections — prothorax, mesothorax, & metathorax
  • One pair of legs on each thoracic segment
  • Wings located on mesothorax & metathorax
  • Ovipositor located on the end of the abdomen in female insects & used to dig hole & lay eggs

Common Insect Orders

  • Orthoptera – grasshoppers, crickets, & cockroaches 2 pairs of straight wings & chewing mouthparts)
  • Isoptera – termites (feed on wood)
  • Dermaptera – earwigs (pincers on end of abdomen)
  • Anoplura – sucking lice (wingless parasites)
  • Hemiptera – true bugs (have triangular-shaped scutellum & last 1/3 of wings membranous)
  • Homoptera – aphids & cicadas (membranous wings held roof-like over body
  • Ephemeroptera – mayflies (have 2 cerci on tail, membranous wings, & nonfunctional mouthparts in adults)
  • Odonata – dragonflies & damselflies (2 pairs of equal size, membranous wings, strong fliers, feed on other insects)
  • Neuroptera – Dobson flies &  lacewings (2 pairs of membranous wings)
  • Coleoptera – beetles (hard forewings or elytra, membranous hindwings)
  • Lepidoptera – butterflies & moths (powdery scales covered wings
  • Diptera – flies & mosquitoes (one pair of wings, 2nd pair modified into balancing structure called halteres)
  • Siphonaptera – fleas (parasites on birds & mammals, wingless as adults)
  • Hymenoptera – bees, ants, & wasps (stinger on abdomen for protection, may live together in groups, pollinators)

     Click Here for Pictures of Insect Orders


Success of Insects

  • Found everywhere except in deep part of ocean
  • Very short life span & rapidly adapt to new environments
  • Small size helps minimize competition in habitats
  • Flight helps escape predators & move into other environments

Environmental Impact

  • Pollinate almost 2/3’s of all plants
  • Serve as food for fish, birds, & mammals
  • Help recycle materials (termites recycle wood)
  • Make useful byproducts such as silk & honey
  • Some spread disease
  • Agricultural pests


External Structure

  • Head with antenna, compound eyes, & chewing mouthparts
  • Walking legs on prothorax & mesothorax; jumping legs on metathorax
  • Tarsus are lower leg segments with spines, hooks, & pads
  • Leathery, protective forewings on mesothorax & membranous hindwings for flight on metathorax
  • Covering over thorax called pronotum

Internal Structure
Digestive & Excretory Systems

  • Cutting & chewing mouthparts (labium, labrum, mandibles, & maxillae)
  • Saliva added to food in mouth
  • Esophagus carries food to crop for temporary storage
  • Gizzard has chitinous plates to grind food
  • Midgut (insect’s stomach) has gastric caeca (pouches) to secrete digestive enzymes to break down food
  • Food is absorbed into the body cavity or coelom in the hindgut (composed of the colon & rectum)
  • Malpighian tubules filter chemical wastes from the blood & deposit them in the rectum where they leave through the anus

Circulatory System

  • Open circulation of blood
  • Aorta is the largest blood vessel carrying blood to the body cells
  • Hearts are muscular regions of the aorta in the posterior end of the abdomen that pump blood toward head
  • Blood flows back toward abdomen carrying digested food & re-enters the aorta through openings called ostia

Respiratory System

  • Air enters through openings called spiracles along the sides of the abdomen & enters into tracheal tubes that branch into smaller tracheoles where gas exchange with body cells occurs 
  • Tracheal tubes carry oxygen to body cells & return carbon dioxide to leave the body though spiracles

Nervous System

  • Simple brain, nerve cords, & ganglia 
  • Three simple eyes or ocelli (detect light) & a pair of compound eyes (can detect movement but not images)
  • Tympanic membrane on 1st abdominal segment
  • Pair of antenna contains sense organs for touch, taste, & smell detects sound
  • Sensory hairs found on parts of the body
  • Palpi for taste

Reproductive System

  • Reproductive organs (ovaries & testes) located  in abdomen
  • Male deposits sperm into female’s seminal receptacle
  • Stored sperm fertilizes eggs as they  are released by female
  • Ovipositor on tip of female’s abdomen is used to lay eggs
  • Separate sexes
  • Lay large number of eggs to ensure survival


  • Most insects go through changes in form & size called metamorphosis
  • Some insects such as silverfish don’t go through metamorphosis
  • Incomplete metamorphosis goes from egg to nymph (immature form that looks like adult but without fully developed wings) to adult (3 stages)
  • Instars are growth periods between molts of nymphs & larva
  • Grasshoppers, termites, & true bugs go through incomplete metamorphosis


  • Complete metamorphosis goes from egg to larva (segmented & wormlike) to pupa  to adult (4 stages)


  • Butterflies, beetles, & flies go through complete metamorphosis
  • In pupal stage, larval tissues break down & cells called imaginal disk develops into tissues of the adult
  • Cocoon or chrysalis is a protective case formed around the pupa


  • Metamorphosis controlled by hormones
    * Brain hormone stimulates the release of molting hormone (ecdysone)
    * When juvenile hormone level high, larva molts
    * When juvenile hormone level low, larva pupates
    * When juvenile hormone absent, adult emerges from pupal case
  • Different stages of metamorphosis eliminates competition between larva & adults for food & space
  • Multi-stage life cycle helps insects withstand harsh weather
  • Different stages have different functions (caterpillar/growth & adult/reproduction)

Defense Mechanisms

  • Bombardier beetle sprays noxious chemical


  • Wasps & bees can sting
  • Some insects use camouflage to blend into their environments
  • Some insects taste bad & have warning colorations 


  • Mullerian mimicry – poisonous or dangerous species have similar patterns of warning coloration so predators avoid all the species (black & yellow stripes on bees & wasps)
  • Batesian mimicry – species that are nonpoisonous or not bad tasting have colorations that mimic other poisonous or bad tasting species (Viceroy butterfly mimics bad tasting Monarch)

Insect Communication

  • Insects may communicate with each other using sound (cricket chirps), light (firefly), or “dances” (honeybee)
  • Pheromones are chemicals released by some insects to attract mates or mark trails

Insect Behavior

  • Insects may be solitary or social
  • Social insects (bees, ants, & some wasps) live together in groups & share work (division of labor)
  • Social insects have a caste system with different individuals doing different jobs
  • Honeybee caste system:
    * Workers
    – sterile females
    – care for queen & feed her honey and pollen
    – make beeswax for hive
    – fan wings to cool hive
    – eat honey
    – collect nectar, pollen, & royal jelly
    – live about 6 weeks
    – nurse bees care for larva
    – secrete royal jelly to feed new queen
    * Drones
    – males
    – mate with queen
    – feed by workers
    – driven out of hive to conserve food during winter
    * Queen
    – reproductive female
    – mate only once but store sperm for up to 5 years in seminal receptacles
    – feed by workers
    – secretes chemical called queen factor that prevents other females from sexually maturing
    – leaves hive with 1/2 the workers if there is overcrowding