Did you know that there are many more kinds of insects
on earth than any other kind of living creature? It's hard to imagine, but 95% of all the animal species on
the earth are insects! Millions of insects can exist in a single acre of land! Over one million species have been
discovered by scientist, and they think that there might be ten times that many that haven't been named yet!
They are divided up into 32 orders, or groups of insects. The largest order is the beetles with 125 different families
and around 500,000 different species. In fact, one out of every four animals on earth is a beetle. Scientist estimate
10% of the animal biomass of the world is ants, and another 10% is termites. This means that "social Insects"
probably make up an incredible 20% of the total animal biomass of this planet!
Insects eat more plants that any
other creatures on earth. They are so important in the breakdown of plant and animal matter, that without them,
we would have a world covered with dead plants and animals. In addition to all of this, insects are a major food source
for many other animals.
Insects are incredibly adaptable creatures and have evolved to live successfully in most
environments on earth, including deserts, and even the Antarctic. The only place where insects are not commonly found is
in the oceans. Insects have an amazing number of differences in size, shape, and behavior, but they all have 4
characteristics in common.
All insects must have:
* Three body parts - a head, thorax and abdomen
* Six jointed legs
* Two antennae to sense the world around them
* An exoskeleton (outside skeleton)
If all four of these things are not true, then the animal can't be called
an insect! Spiders are not insects because they have eight legs and don't have three body parts. Centipedes
and millipedes have way too many legs to be called insects! Most insects have one or two pairs of wings, but wings aren't
necessary to be classified an insect.
Scientists believe that insects are so successful because:
* They have a protective shell or exoskeleton
* They are small
* Most of them can fly
Their small size and ability to fly helps them to escape from enemies and travel to new
environments. Because they are small they need only small amounts of food and can live in very small cracks and spaces.
Insects can also produce large numbers of offspring very quickly.
Insects are directly useful to humans by producing
honey, silk, wax, and other products. They are also important as pollinators of crops, natural enemies of pests, scavengers
and food for other creatures. At the same time, insects are major pests of humans and domesticated animals because they
destroy crops and carry diseases. Actually, less than one percent of insects species are pests, and only a few hundred
of these are consistently a problem.
Insects have a lightweight, but strong exterior (outside) skeleton called an exoskeleton. Their muscles
and organs are on the inside. This multi-layered exoskeleton protects the insect from the environment and natural enemies.
The exoskeleton also has many sense organs for sensing light, pressure, sound, temperature, wind and smells. Sense organs
may be located almost anywhere on the insects body, not just on the head.
have three main body parts: Head, Thorax, Abdomen.
The head is used mainly for eating,
sensing things and gathering information. Insect mouth-parts have evolved for chewing (beetles,caterpillars), piercing-sucking
(aphids, bugs), sponging (flies), sucking (moths), rasping-sucking (thrips), cutting-sponging (biting flies), and chewing-lapping
(wasps). That's a lot of ways to eat!
All insects have two antennae that they use to sense
the world around them. Whether their antennae are short, long, thick, thin, insects use them to feel, smell and even
The thorax protects the body and gives support for three pairs of jointed legs and, on
many insects, for one or two pairs of wings. The legs may be adapted for running, grasping, digging, or swimming.
The abdomen contains the organs used for digestion and reproduction.
INSIDE THE BODY OF AN INSECT
The inside of an insect's body has an open circulatory system. That means that its body fluids just sort of flow
around inside the exoskeleton. It also has many breathing tubes, and a digestive system. It has a heart, a few
blood vessels, and insect blood simply flows around the body cavity. Air enters the insect through a few openings in
the exoskeleton called spiracles. From there oxygen gets to all areas of the insect's body through the breathing
tubes, which go everywhere in the body. The insect "stomach", or digestive system, is long and tube-like,
and is usually divided into three sections.
The insect nervous system send messages from the sense organs ) sight,
smell, taste, hearing, and touch) to and from the brain. The brain is located in the head and processes information,
but some information is also processed at nerve centers at different places in the body.
INSECT GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
Insects usually go through four separate life stages: egg, larva
or nymph, pupa, and adult. Eggs are laid one at a time or in masses, in or on plants, or even inside another insect!
Eventually a larva or nymph emerges from the egg. There are usually several larval or nymphal stages, called instars.
During each stage the nymph grows larger and molts, or sheds its outer skin before the next stage. They grow the most
during the last one or two instars, or stages. All the growing happens during the larval or nymphal stages. The
eggs, pupae, and adults don't grow in size.
The two types of metamorphosis typical of insects are: incomplete
metamorphosis (egg--> nymph--> adult) and complete metamorphoses (egg--> larva-->
With incomplete metamorphosis, the nymphal stages look like the adult except that
they don't have wings, and the nymphs may be colored differently than the adults. Nymphs and adults usually live
in the same kind of habitats. Incomplete metamorphosis is typical of true bugs and grasshoppers: complete metamorphosis
is typical of beetles, flies, moths, and wasps. the young insects that go through complete metamorphosis do not look
like the adults, they often live In different habitats, and feed on different things. Some moth and wasp larvae weave
a silken shell (cocoon) to protect the pupa. In flies, the last larval skin becomes a puparium, a kind of hard shell,
that protects the pupa.
Insects are cold-blooded, so the rate at which they grow and develop depends on the temperature
of their environment. Cooler temperatures cause slow growth; higher temperatures speed up the growing process.
If a season is hot, more generations, or life cycles, might happen than during a cool season.
INSECT CLASSIFICATION AND IDENTIFICATION
It is necessary to classify insects so that we can organize what we know about them and understand their
relationships with other insects. For example, all members of a particular species will feed on similar foods, have
similar developmental characteristics, and exist in similar environments. Most often insect species are classified based
on similarities in appearance (morphology). The flies, for example, can be distinguished and classified separately from
other winged insects because they have only one pair of wings.
Click on picture to view slide show of various bug bites.
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