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Related to Insecta: Elrathia


A class of the phylum Arthropoda, sometimes called the Hexapoda. In fact, Hexapoda is a superclass consisting of both Insecta and the related class Parainsecta (containing the springtails and proturans). Class Insecta is the most diverse group of organisms, containing about 900,000 described species, but there are possibly as many as 5 million to perhaps 20 million actual species of insects. Like other arthropods, they have an external, chitinous covering. Fossil insects dating as early as the Early Devonian have been found.


The class Insecta is divided into orders on the basis of the structure of the wings and the mouthparts, on the type of metamorphosis, and on various other characteristics. There are differences of opinion among entomologists as to the limits of some of the orders. The orders of insects (and their relatives the parainsects) are shown below.

  • Superclass Hexapoda
  • Class Parainsecta
  • Order: Protura: proturans
  • Collembola: springtails
  • Class Insecta
  • Subclass Monocondylia
  • Order: Diplura: telsontails
  • Archaeognatha: bristletails
  • Subclass Dicondylia
  • Infraclass Apterygota
  • Order: Zygentoma: silverfish, firebrats
  • Infraclass Pterygota
  • Section Palaeoptera
  • Order: Ephemeroptera: mayflies
  • Odonata: damselflies and dragonflies
  • Section Neoptera
  • Hemimetabola
  • Order: Plecoptera: stoneflies
  • Grylloblattodea: rockcrawlers
  • Orthoptera: grasshoppers, katy-dids, crickets
  • Phasmatodea: walkingsticks
  • Mantodea: mantises
  • Blattodea: cockroaches
  • Isoptera: termites
  • Dermaptera: earwigs
  • Embioptera: webspinners
  • Zoraptera: zorapterans
  • Psocoptera: psocids, booklice
  • Phthiraptera: lice
  • Thysanoptera: thrips
  • Hemiptera: cicadas, hoppers, aphids, white-flies, scales
  • Holometabola
  • Order: Megaloptera: dobsonflies, alderflies
  • Raphidioidea: snakeflies
  • Neuroptera: lacewings, antlions
  • Coleoptera: beetles
  • Strepsiptera: twisted-wing parasites
  • Mecoptera: scorpionflies
  • Siphonaptera: fleas
  • Diptera: true flies
  • Trichoptera: caddisflies
  • Lepidoptera: moths, butterflies
  • Hymenoptera: sawflies, wasps, ants, bees


Insects are usually elongate and cylindrical in form, and are bilaterally symmetrical. The body is segmented, and the ringlike segments are grouped into three distinct regions: the head, thorax, and abdomen. The head bears the eyes, antennae, and mouthparts; the thorax bears the legs and wings, when wings are present; the abdomen usually bears no locomotor appendages but often bears some appendages at its apex. Most of the appendages of an insect are segmented.

The skeleton is primarily on the outside of the body and is called an exoskeleton. However, important endoskeletal structures occur, particularly in the head. The body wall of an insect serves not only as a covering, but also as a supporting structure to which many important muscles are attached. The body wall of an insect is composed of three principal layers: the outer cuticula, which contains, among other chemicals, chitin; a cellular layer, the epidermis, which secretes the chitin; and a thin noncellular layer beneath the epidermis, the basement membrane. The surface of an insect's body consists of a number of hardened plates, or sclerites, separated by sutures or membranous areas, which permit bending or movement. See Chitin

A pair of compound eyes usually cover a large part of the head surface. In addition most insects also possess two or three simple eyes, the ocelli, usually located on the upper part of the head between the compound eyes; each of these has a single lens. See Eye (invertebrate)

Insect mouthparts typically consist of a labrum, or upper lip; a pair each of mandibles and maxillae; a labium, or lower lip; and a tonguelike structure, the hypopharynx. These structures are variously modified in different insect groups and are often used in classification and identification. The type of mouthparts an insect has determines how it feeds and what type of damage it is capable of causing.

Several forms of antennae are recognized, to which various names are applied; they are used extensively in classification. The antennae are usually located between or below the compound eyes and are often reduced to a very small size. They are sensory in function and act as tactile organs, organs of smell, and in some cases organs of hearing.

Insects are the only winged invertebrates, and their dominance as a group is probably due to their wings. Immature insects do not have fully developed wings, except in the mayflies. The wings may be likened to the two sides of a cellophane bag that have been pressed tightly together. The form and rigidity of the wing are due to the stiff chitinous veins which support and strengthen the membranous portion. At the base are small sclerites which serve as muscle attachments and produce consequent wing movement. The wings vary in number, placement, size, shape, texture, and venation, and in the position at which they are held at rest. Adult insects may be wingless or may have one pair of wings on the mesothorax, or, more often two pairs. There is a common basic pattern of wing venation in insects which is variously modified and in general quite specific for different large groups of insects. Much of insect classification depends upon these variations. A knowledge of fossil insects depends largely upon the wings, because they are among the more readily fossilized parts of the insect body.

Internal anatomy

The intake of oxygen, its distribution to the tissues, and the removal of carbon dioxide are accomplished by means of an intricate system of tubes called the tracheal system. The principal tubes of this system, the tracheae, open externally at the spiracles. Internally they branch extensively, extend to all parts of the body, and terminate in simple cells, the tracheoles. Many adaptations for carrying on respiration are known.

Insects possess an alimentary tract consisting of a tube, usually coiled, which extends from the mouth to the anus. It is differentiated into three main regions: the foregut, midgut, and hindgut. Valves between the three main divisions of the alimentary canal regulate the passage of food from one region to another.

The excretory system consists of a group of tubes with closed distal ends, the Malpighian tubules, which arise as evaginations of the anterior end of the hindgut. They vary in number from 1 to over 100, and extend into the body cavity. Various waste products are taken up from the blood by these tubules and passed out via the hindgut and anus.

The circulatory system of an insect is an open one. The only blood vessel is a tube located dorsal to the alimentary tract and extending through the thorax and abdomen. The posterior portion of this tube, the heart, is divided into a series of chambers, each of which has a pair of lateral openings called ostia. The anterior part of the tube is called the dorsal aorta.

The nervous system consists of a brain, often called the supraesophageal ganglion, located in the head above the esophagus; a subesophageal ganglion, connected to the brain by two commissures that extend around each side of the esophagus; and a ventral nerve cord, typically double, extending posteriorly through the thorax and abdomen from the subesophageal ganglion. In the nerve cords there are enlargements, called ganglia. Typically, there is a pair to each body segment. From each ganglion of the chain, nerves extend to each adjacent segment of the body, and also extend from the brain to part of the alimentary canal.

Reproduction in insects is nearly always sexual, and the sexes are separate. Variations from the usual reproductive pattern occur occasionally. In many social insects, such as the ants and bees, certain females, the workers, may be unable to reproduce because their sex organs are undeveloped; in some insects, individuals occasionally occur that have characters of both sexes, called gynandromorphs. Also, parthenogenesis—the process of females giving rise to females—is known in some species.


After insects hatch from an egg, they begin to increase in size and will also usually change, to some degree at least, in form and often in appearance. This developmental process is metamorphosis. The growth of an insect is accompanied by a series of molts, or ecdyses, in which the cuticle is shed and renewed.

The molt involves not only the external layers of the body wall, the cuticula, but also the cuticular linings of the tracheae, foregut, and hindgut; the cast skins often retain the shape of the insects from which they were shed. The shedding process begins with a splitting of the old cuticle. This split grows and the insect eventually wriggles out of the old cuticle. The new skin, remains soft and pliable long enough for the body to expand to its fullest capacity before hardening.

Insects differ regarding the number of molts during their growing period. Many have as few as four molts; a few species have 40 or more, and the latter continue to molt throughout life.

Insects have been grouped or classified on the basis of the type of metamorphosis they undergo. Although all entomologists do not agree upon the same classification, the following outline is presented:

1. Ametabolous or primitive: No distinct external changes are evident with an increase in size.

2. Hemimetabolous: Direct metamorphosis that is simple and gradual; immature forms resemble the adults except in size, wings, and genitalia. Immatures are referred to as nymphs or naiads if aquatic.

3. Holometabolous: Complete, or indirect, metamorphosis; stages in this developmental type are: egg→larva→pupa→adult (or imago).


Insects and parainsects have a rich fossil record that extends to 415 million years, representing all taxonomic orders and 70% of all families that occur today, Insect deposits are characterized by an abundance of exceptionally well-preserved deposits known as Lagerstätten. Lagerstätten refer not only to the familiar amber deposits that entomb insects in hardened tree resin, but more importantly to a broad variety of typically laminar, sedimentary deposits. These deposits, formed in lake basins, are the most persistent of insect-bearing deposits and document the evolution of insect biotas during the past 300 million years. By contrast, the oldest amber is approximately 120 million years old and extends modern lineages and associated taxa to the Early Cretaceous. Other major types of insect deposits include terrestrial shales and fine-grained sandstones marginal to marine deposits during the Early and Middle Devonian, a proliferation of nodular ironstone-bearing strata of late Carboniferous age from the equatorial lowlands of the paleocontinent Euramerica, and distinctive lithographic limestones worldwide from the Middle Jurassic to Early Cretaceous. More modern deposits are Miocene to Recent sinter deposits created by hydrothermal zones with mineral-rich waters, and similarly aged asphaltum, representing the surface accumulation of tar. Lastly, insects are abundant in many Pleistocene glacial deposits of outwash and stranded lake sediments, formed by the waxing and waning of alpine and continental glaciers.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a class of invertebrates of the phylum Arthropoda. The segmented body is covered with a thick cuticule, which forms the external skeleton, and is divided into the head, thorax, and abdomen. The head is enclosed in a capsule and contains the mouth parts, the eyes, and a pair of antennae. The eyes may be compound or simple. The antennae, which serve as organs of smell and touch, vary widely in appearance (filiform, setaceous, clavate, pinnate, lamellate). The mouth parts include upper and lower jaws and a lower lip, which are covered by an upper lip.

Differentiation of the mouth parts is connected with adaptations for various feeding methods. In the Lepidoptera, Muscidae, and other insects, sucking organs (with a proboscis as the working organ) have evolved from the chewing mouth parts characteristic of the Orthoptera, Coleoptera, and Hymenoptera. Sucking mouth parts are adapted for the consumption of liquid foods. The piercing-sucking mouth parts of Heteroptera, Jugatae, Thysanoptera, Culicidea, and Tabanidae enable the insects to feed on the cell sap of plants and the blood of animals.

The thorax consists of three segments and usually has three pairs of jointed legs; in most species it has wings. It has powerful muscles, and its strong skeleton is divided into three thoracic segments, each having a pair of legs. Each leg consists of a coxa, trochanter, femur, tibia, and tarsus (ending with a pair of claws). In some insects the legs are not only designed for locomotion (walking, running, jumping, and swimming) but are also adapted for grasping prey, for digging, or for collecting flower pollen (for example, the hind legs of bees). In winged insects, the mesothorax and metathorax each has a pair of wings, which are strengthened by a network of veins. The distribution of the veins distinguishes various groups of insects and is used in classification.

The abdomen is composed of numerous segments (up to 11); legs are absent in mature individuals. In many insects the abdomen terminates in such appendages as segmented or simple cerci or sometimes a single cercus. Females have an ovipositor or stinger; males have unsegmented styles.

The internal anatomy of insects is complex. The digestive system includes salivary glands and an alimentary canal consisting of a foregut, midgut, and hindgut. The structure of the digestive organs depends on the type of food consumed. The circulatory system is open; the blood, which fills the body cavity, is circulated by n dorsal vessel with a pulsating section, or heart.

The respiratory organs are composed of a complex system of air tubes, or tracheae, which end in minute capillary tracheoles. Air enters the tracheal system through spiracles in the sides of the body and reaches the tissues and cells of the body directly. The excretory organs consist of Malpighian tubules, which remove waste products. The development of insects and many of their life processes are regulated by hormones secreted by endocrine glands connected to the nervous system. Many insects have highly developed stink, poison, wax-producing, or silk-making glands. The reproductive system is composed of glands (testes in the male, ovaries in the female, and accessory glands) and accessory ducts; the males of higher insects have complex copulatory apparatus.

The nervous system consists of a first nerve ganglion (brain) and an abdominal nerve chord composed of a number of ganglia. Insects have senses of sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing; they also can discern hygrothermal changes. Behavioral reactions of insects reveal great variety and complexity.

Insect development involves a sequence of phases and metamorphosis. Incomplete metamorphosis includes three stages: (1) egg; (2) larva, or nymph; and (3) adult, or imago. Complete metamorphosis includes a pupal stage between the larval and adult forms. The life cycle of insects is varied; it is determined by the number of generations per year, characteristics of seasonal development, and the nature of the diapause.

Classification. There are approximately 1 million known species of insects, more than the combined number of all other animal and plant species. Each year thousands of new species are described; it is likely that the actual number of insect species is 2 million. There are about 80, 000 to 100, 000 species in the USSR, but far from all have been studied.

Insect classification is very complicated owing to the great variety of insects. As a result, there are several different systems. One system divides the Insecta into two subclasses: the Apterygota and Pterygota. The former includes four orders—Protura, Collembola, Diplura, and Thysanura. The Pterygota are divided into those winged species with incomplete metamorphosis and those with complete metamorphosis. Extant Pterygota with incomplete metamorphosis include the orders Ephemeroptera and Odonata (sometimes combined into the order Paleoptera, with all other winged insects placed in the order Neoptera), as well as the orders Dictyoptera, Mantodea, Isoptera, Embioptera, Grilloblattida, Phasmoptera, Orthoptera, Dermaptera, Hemimerida, Zoraptera, Plecoptera, Jugatae, Heteroptera, Thysanoptera, Mallophaga, Anoplura, and Copeognatha. Pterygota with complete metamorphosis include Coleoptera, Strepsiptera, Megaloptera, Rhaphidioptera, Neuroptera, Mecoptera, Trichoptera, Lepidoptera, Aphaniptera, Diptera, and Hymenoptera.

Another classification system divides the Insecta into the subclasses Entognatha (with the three orders Protura, Collembola, and Diplura) and Ectognatha (including the order Thysanura and all higher insects). Insect anatomy, embryology, physiology, ecology, and distribution are studied in entomology, as are means of combatting harmful species.

Insects play numerous roles in nature. They participate in the breakdown of organic substances, since their food sources range from live plants and animal flesh to the decomposing remains of plants and animals. Insects perform a sanitary function and are important in soil formation. Their role in plant pollination is particularly important. Insects also provide valuable food and industrial products (for example, honeybees, silkworms, lac insects). Certain species are beneficial in that they destroy pests and weeds; others serve as food for numerous animals that are commercially exploited, including mammals, fowl, and fish. At the same time, some insects are serious pests of plants and animals. Some are particularly harmful because they carry the causative agents of many diseases; some species suck blood. Insect populations are often unstable, and certain species increase geometrically.


Extinct Insecta. Individual fossils of Collembola have been found in Middle Devonian deposits. The Insecta became numerous after the middle of the Carboniferous. The species prevalent at that time are now largely extinct; they included representatives of the orders Paleodictyoptera, Negodonata, and Blattoidea. The first Coleoptera and Mecoptera appeared in the Permian; the first Hymenoptera appeared in the Triassic. Jurassic insects have been found primarily in Eurasia; they include large numbers of Coleoptera and Diptera. The early Cretaceous was marked by the appearance of many new families, which formed the insect fauna of the Cenozoic; the insect world of the Paleocene differed little from that of modern times.

Insect fossils help to determine the geological age of deposits, as well as the climate and the biocenoses of the past. At present they are being studied in a number of countries. Much attention has been devoted to insect fossils in the USSR since the 1930’s, at which time approximately 500 sites were found and vast collections were gathered.



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(invertebrate zoology)
A class of the Arthropoda typically having a segmented body with an external, chitinous covering, a pair of compound eyes, a pair of antennae, three pairs of mouthparts, and two pairs of wings.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
Thrips species (Insecta: Thysanoptera) associated to Fabaceae of agricultural importance in Cerrado and Amazon-Caatinga ecotone from Brazilian Mid-North.
(2014) Mantidofauna (Insecta: Mantodea) en fragmentos de Bosque Seco Tropical (Bs-T) en el Departamento del Atlantico (Colombia).
Reddell J (1985) A checklist and bibliography of the Japygoidea (Insecta: Diplura) of South America.
Estado poblacional del orden Plecoptera (Insecta) en el Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada en Venezuela y sus implicaciones para planes de conservacion.
Nuevos registros de Baetidae (Ephemeroptera: Insecta) para Colombia y el departamento del Tolima.
Gastropoda 1% Arachnida 3% Collembola 5% Insecta 91% Note: Table made from pie chart.
& RIVERA, J., 2015.- Some taxonomic and nomenclatural changes in American Mantodea (Insecta, Dictyoptera)--Part I.
Observations of waterscorpions (Insecta: Heteroptera: Nepidae) in the Nizwa area, northern Oman.
Lice species (Insecta: Phthiraptera) from Chilean picidae (Cves: Piciformes).