Types of Insects

Insects, the most numerous, and arguably the most dominant, form of life on earth, attract interest wherever they are found.

Hardly a day passes when any single person does not meet up with at least one insect species.

Bees, butterflies and dragonflies, three of the more popular types of insects, inhabit our gardens and parks.

Insect pests as well as beneficial insects inhabit agricultural lands everywhere.

The short video clip presents a Pacific Spiketail dragonfly.

Formal insect identification gets a bit more complicated once past the point of knowing that a wasp is a wasp or a fly is a fly. The links in the box point to more detailed species information, arranged primarily by insect orders.

When entomologists talk about different types of insects, they typically refer to the bugs in the Class Insecta, or the bugs defined as insects with three body parts (head, thorax and abdomen) and six legs.

The types of insects found in North America get organized into almost thirty different orders, some more familiar than others. Approximately one dozen of the more popular insect orders receive extended discussion in the insect section. Just click on a link in the box to get started.

Prior to doing so, consider the less familiar insect orders shown in the composite on the right.

Starting with Earwigs (order Dermaptera), urban legend tells the story of their crawling into the ears of sleeping humans in order to snack on their brains remains a science fiction best seller. While it's a tag bit exaggerated, earwigs do pose both garden and residential infestation problems across much of the United States.

Most species average less than one inch in length and have prominent pincers on the bottom of the abdomen. They are nocturnal insects that prefer to hide in moist crevices during daylight hours.

As omnivores, large garden infestations can hurt plant production. The most popular, and least invasive control method involves rolling up slightly damp newspapers and placing them on the ground overnight. Collect and dispose of the newspaper in the morning.

Keeping a residence free of clutter and moisture from faulty plumbing are good preventative measures. Large home invasions mostly bring inconveniences. They can be dealt with some commercial non-toxic baits and traps.

Giant Earwings, the largest earwig species, can reach lengths exceeding three inches.

Mantids share the same insect order with cockroaches (Dictyoptera order). Member of the Mantidae family go by the common name, praying mantis, based on their habit of holding their front legs upward, as they sit and wait for prey.

About fifteen mantid species inhabit North America, most share similar physical traits such as a long, thin green or brown body, with long legs and small heads.

The red edging on the wings and thorax, and the brown tips on the legs suggest the species is a European mantis. The dark eyes are an artifact of low light conditions.

Humans consider Praying Mantis beneficial insects. In gardens they eat the insects that eat the garden plants.

Known to almost no one except professional entomologists and insect enthusiasts, snakeflies (order Raphidioptera) constitute a small group of predatory insects.

The North American population is limited to areas west of the Rocky Mountains, and consists of approximately twenty species that fit into two families.

Raphidiidae, the largest family consists of two genera and 18 species. Square-headed snakeflies (family) Inocelliidae consists of one genus (Negha) and three species.

The picture shows a female, with ovipositor, in the Agulla genus of the Raphidiidae family. The thin body and extended neck and head explain the common name snakefly.

Five walkingstick families make up the order Order Phasmida in the United States.

Most of the dozen or so species have long, thin, brown or green bodies that help them blend into their environment, with the orange and yellow Two-striped Walkingstick (Anisomorpha buprestoides), going against the grain.

Caution is advised in the presence of this native Southeast resident. As a defence mechanism that spray a caustic chemical that is known to cause sever pain if it hits the eyes.

The picture highlights the size disparity between genders, with females substantially larger than males.

Giant Walking Sticks (Megaphasma denticrus) ranks as North America's longest native insects, with females reaching seven inches in length.

Favorite Insects

When talk turns to rock and roll music, insects usually do not start the conversation.

The journal American Entomologist bucked that trend and recently published a study on the scope and social meaning of using insects as cover art for rock music.

In brief, the author, a biologist with an interest in cultural entomology, tells us that the history of rock and roll music cover art tells us that the rock and roll generation likes butterflies and dragonflies and they have a negative attitude about horseflies and deer flies.

While the meaning of rock and roll insect art may be intuitively obvious, the method used to reach those conclusions deserves some attention. The article Insects in Rock and Roll Cover Art generally examines music industry attitudes about insects in the context of a growing interest in the use of insect imagery in society.

In terms of scope, the use of insects as a theme in music cover art is small. In a semi-extensive search of the rock music genre between 1955 and 2004, the author was able to document 392 instances (out of a 500,000 universe) where insects where a theme on the cover art. The top five (out of 16) insect orders represented on cover art were:

  • Lepidoptera 36% (butterflies and moths)
  • Hymenoptera 17% (bees, ants, wasps)
  • Coleoptera 11% (beetles)
  • Diptera 9% (flies)
  • Odonata 8% (dragonflies)

With butterflies and dragonflies rounding out the top and the bottom of the list, it is safe to conclude that the aesthetic appeal of these two insect orders is the dominant factor influencing industry decisions about insect cover art. The author also fined some additional interesting themes running through different sets of covers. He links social attitudes related to insects as pests or predators to almost all the cover art that includes members of the Diptera order.

© 2008-2014 Patricia A. Michaels

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