Updated: December 30, 2022
© Leena Robinson/
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All insects are part of the taxonomical phylum Arthropoda, and they are collectively referred to as arthropods. It is common to see this name misspelled as “anthropod,” but this is not the correct term. They can be found in nearly every environment on the planet, and they currently account for over half of all known living organisms in the world.

They have undergone many cycles of evolution depending on the resources available to them. With over one million described species currently living, and millions more estimated to exist, insects greatly outnumber all other animals.

In general, this classification of creatures is referred to as Insecta. In some cases, the terms “Ectognatha” and “Entomida” may be used instead, but these three labels are synonymous and may be used interchangeably. For simplicity, this guide will always use the classification Insecta.

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The name Insecta is derived from the Latin word “insectum,” which means “divided body” or “cut into sections.”

Learn about why insects are classified as animals here.

The Four Major Insect Characteristics Listed

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle

Insects are one of the most diverse groups on the planet

©Muskoka Stock Photos/

Insects are one of the most diverse groups on the planet, and their evolution throughout history is astounding. However, in order to be considered a member of the class Insecta, animals must meet a certain number of criteria. In fact, many people are surprised to learn that many of the bugs that are commonly believed to be insects are technically not a part of the Insecta class.

1. Insects have three distinct body segments.

One of the most well-known defining characteristics of insects is the division of their bodies

©Charles J. Sharp / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

One of the most well-known defining characteristics of insects is the division of their bodies into three sections: head, thorax, and abdomen. The head features a single pair of antennae and a pair of either simple or compound eyes.

This is also where the mouth is located, but the type of mouth is dependent on the type of insect. Mouth variation is one of the main factors used to classify insects.

The thorax is the midsection, and this is where the legs and wings are attached. The abdomen houses the digestive and reproductive organs, and it is also where the stinger is located if the insect has one.

2. Insects have six legs.

European bat bug

True insects only have six legs.

© Macat

Unlike other members of the larger phylum Arthropoda which class Insecta belongs to, true insects only have six legs. Arachnids are often mistaken for insects, but they have eight legs. All insects have three pairs of jointed legs that are attached to the thorax of the body.

3. Insects have an exoskeleton.

Click Beetle Larvae

Click beetle larvae have elongated, slender, shiny bodies with hard exoskeletons.

©Henrik Larsson/

Insects are classified as invertebrates, which means they have no internal spinal column to provide structure and protection. Instead, they have what is known as an exoskeleton, which literally means “outer skeleton.” These external skeletons are made from a tough, inflexible material called chitin, and they provide the support and protection that would typically come from an internal skeleton.

4. Insects hatch from eggs.

Parasitic fly, Tachinid fly

Parasitic flies are known for their unique ability to lay eggs on other insects.


Almost every known species of insect hatches from an egg. For insects, fertilization and development occur inside the egg, and the eggs of most species are specially designed to withstand harsh weather conditions such as droughts.

What Do Insects Eat?

Depending on the Species of insects, they eat plants, flowers, fruits, and other insects.

Many insects eat grass and leaves. Some other insects eat decaying food such as garbage or carcasses. Furthermore, there are other insects that only drink liquids such as butterflies, mosquitos, and bees. Many insects are attracted to sweet things such as honey, nectar, or sap.

Evolution and Origins

Class Exceptions

Cockroaches are ovoviviparous, which means that the eggs develop inside of the mother and hatch as soon as they are laid.

©D. Kucharski K. Kucharska/

As with most classification systems, there are a few exceptions to the general rules that govern which species are included in the class Insecta.

  • Certain species do not lay eggs.

    The majority of insects lay eggs that develop and hatch outside of the mother. However, there are a handful of insect species that reproduce via different methods, such as those listed below.
    • Juvenile aphids, tsetse flies, and certain cockroaches are ovoviviparous, which means that the eggs develop inside of the mother and hatch as soon as they are laid.
    • Other cockroach species are viviparous, so the young gestate inside of the mother and are born alive.
    • Some insect species display polyembryony, which means that one fertilized egg divides into many separate embryos.
  • A few species are bioluminescent.

    A small number of insects, such as fireflies, are able to generate light that can be used for mating or luring prey.
  • A select few insects are long-lived.

    In general, insects live short lives. While most insects may only live a few days or weeks, the egg-laying queens of some ant, bee, and wasp species can live for many decades.

The Life Cycle of Insects

Animals With The Shortest Lifespan

The life cycles of insects are divided into two basic groups: complete and incomplete metamorphosis.

© Toelle

The life cycles of insects are divided into two basic groups: complete and incomplete metamorphosis. Each life cycle has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of evolution.

Complete the Metamorphosis Steps Listed

Complete metamorphosis happens in four distinct stages.

  1. Egg: The female lays fertilized eggs that hatch after a given span of time.
  2. Larva: This is the growth phase. Larvae spend nearly all of their time eating in order to prepare for their final transformation.
  3. Pupa: The pupa is in the transformation phase. The insect is contained within a hard shell called a chrysalis, and all of the internal organs are broken down into a kind of “soup.” This liquefaction allows the adult body to form.
  4. Adult: Once the reorganization of the pupa stage is complete, the chrysalis will split open and the fully formed adult emerges.

Incomplete Metamorphosis Steps Listed

cockroach nymph on woodgrain background

As with insects that undergo complete metamorphosis, eggs are laid by the female and hatch into young known as nymphs.


Incomplete metamorphosis occurs in lesser-developed insects and happens in only three stages.

  1. Egg: As with insects that undergo complete metamorphosis, eggs are laid by the female and hatch into young.
  2. Nymph: In this stage, the young look like miniature versions of adults, but they cannot reproduce. Wings develop during this stage rather than the pupal stage. Nymphs will undergo a series of molts in order to shed their inflexible exoskeletons as they grow.
  3. Adult: After a nymph’s final molt, it will have fully developed wings and the ability to reproduce.

Insect List

A Achrioptera Manga
Achrioptera Manga

Unlike other species of stick insects, the Achrioptera manga's mating season is year-round and mating occurs regularly.

A Africanized bee (killer bee)
Africanized bee (killer bee)

Will chase intruders up to a quarter mile from their hives

A Ambrosia Beetle
Ambrosia Beetle

The ambrosia beetle forms a symbiotic relationship with the ambrosia fungi

A American Cockroach
American Cockroach

Despite its name, actually originated from Africa and the Middle East

A American Dog Tick
American Dog Tick

Main vector of Rocky Mountain spotted fever

A Ant

First evolved 100 million years ago!

A Apple Moth
Apple Moth

In Australia the LBAM causes $21.1 million annually in lost production and control costs

A Armyworm

They are so named because they "march" in armies of worms from one crop to another in search of food

A Asian Cockroach
Asian Cockroach

Originally discovered in Japan

A Asian Giant Hornet
Asian Giant Hornet

The largest wasp in the world!

A Asian Longhorn Beetle
Asian Longhorn Beetle

Their entire life cycle from larvae to beetle usually takes around 2 years in Asia. However, it may take longer in areas where they are an invasive species, like the UK and USA

A Assassin Bug
Assassin Bug

The assassin bug is named for its quick strike ability.

A Atlas Moth
Atlas Moth

Adult atlas moths do not eat - they live off fat they stored as larvae.

A Australian Cockroach
Australian Cockroach

The most common type outdoor roach in Florida

A Bagworm Moth
Bagworm Moth

There are approximately 1350 species in the bagworm moth family (Psychidae), which forms part of the order Lepidoptera.

A Bagworm Moth Caterpillar
Bagworm Moth Caterpillar

They continually enlarge their protective cases

A Bamboo Worms
Bamboo Worms

Bamboo worms are the larvae of moths that are eaten as a delicious snack in some parts of Asia.

A Banana Spider
Banana Spider

People spin clothing and fishing nets out of these spiders’ silk.

A Bed Bugs
Bed Bugs

Bed bugs feed for 4-12 minutes.

A Bee

Rock paintings of bees date back 15,000 years

A Beetle

There are more than 350,000 different species

A Beewolf wasp
Beewolf wasp

They hunt bees

A Black Wasp
Black Wasp

The great black wasp is a species of digger wasp.

A Black Widow Spider
Black Widow Spider

They typically prey on insects!

A Black Witch Moth
Black Witch Moth

Some folklore associate Black Witch Moths with bad luck (and even death!), while other associates them with good fortune.

A Blister Beetle
Blister Beetle

Blister Beetles are attracted to lights at night.

A Bombardier Beetle
Bombardier Beetle

Spray a noxious solution from their abdomens

A Brazilian Treehopper
Brazilian Treehopper

“Mild-Mannered Minimonsters”

A Brown Dog Tick
Brown Dog Tick

Can live its entire life indoors

A Brown-banded Cockroach
Brown-banded Cockroach

Females glue egg cases to furniture

A Bumblebee

The most common species of bee!

A Butterfly

There are thought to be up 17,500 species!

A Cabbage Moth
Cabbage Moth

Cabbage moths are named after the vegetable they find the tastiest.

A Cactus Moth
Cactus Moth

Cactus moths can cause serious damage to cacti in locations where they have no predators.

A Camel Cricket
Camel Cricket

The camel crickets that are found in the USA are light brown in color. They also have dark streaks all over their body.

A Camel Spider
Camel Spider

Fast, carnivorous arachnid with a painful bite.

A Carpenter Ant
Carpenter Ant

Carpenter ants can lift up to seven times their own weight with their teeth!

A Carrion Beetle
Carrion Beetle

Carrion beetles' diets depend on the specie. Some eat decaying carcasses, while others scavenge in decaying plant matter and dung.

A Caterpillar

The larvae of a moth or butterfly!

A Cecropia Moth
Cecropia Moth

Cecropia moths don’t have digestive tracts, so they can’t eat.

A Cicada

Cicadas have one of the longest insect lifespans

A Clothes Moth
Clothes Moth

Clothes Moths can remain in the larvae stage for up to 2 years, but adults only live 10 days.

A Cockroach

Dated to be around 300 million years old!

A Codling Moth
Codling Moth

Pupae are able to undergo diapause to survive poor fruit yield years and winter.

A Comet Moth
Comet Moth

Adult comet moths do not feed at all till they die less than 12 days later.

A Common Furniture Beetle
Common Furniture Beetle

The common furniture beetle feeds exclusively on wood

A Common House Spider
Common House Spider

House spiders have the ability to eat most insects in a home.

A Corn Earworm
Corn Earworm

The corn earworm is capable of devouring an entire crop in just a few days

A Cricket

Male crickets can produce sounds by rubbing their wings together

A Cuban Cockroach
Cuban Cockroach

Believed to have been introduced to the United States by being shipped with green bananas.

A Cucumber Beetle
Cucumber Beetle

Adults cucumber beetles cause the most damage to cucurbit plants.

A Death’s Head Cockroach
Death’s Head Cockroach

People buy Death's Head Cockroach nymphs and raise them as pets!

A Deathwatch Beetle
Deathwatch Beetle

The adult deathwatch beetle taps on the wood to find a mate.

A Deer Tick
Deer Tick

Commonly found on white-tailed deer

A Desert Locust
Desert Locust

Solitary locusts are grey while gregarious locusts are yellow with stripes.

A Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle
Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle

The Devil’s coach horse beetle can emit a noxious substance to deter predators

A Diamondback Moth
Diamondback Moth

Adult males make high amplitude boing noise to attract females

A Dog Tick
Dog Tick

Dog ticks feed on dogs and other mammals

A Dragonfly

It's larvae are carnivorous!

A Dried Fruit Moth
Dried Fruit Moth

In the event of adverse environmental conditions, dried fruit moth larvae will become dormant and stop developing.

A Dubia Cockroach
Dubia Cockroach

The most popular species of feeder roach

A Dung Beetle
Dung Beetle

The dung beetle can push objects many times its own weight

A Earwig

There are nearly 2,000 different species!

A Eastern Dobsonfly
Eastern Dobsonfly

They are quite vicious and, when provoked, will administer a painful bite that stings for a long time.

A Elephant Beetle
Elephant Beetle

The males have multiple horns at the front of their bodies.

A European Corn Borer
European Corn Borer

Female can lay up to 600 eggs in her 14-day lifespan

A Firefly

The firefly produces some of the most efficient light in the world

A Flea

Adult fleas can jump up to 7 inches in the air

A Florida Woods Cockroach
Florida Woods Cockroach

Often found on palmetto trees

A Fly

There are more than 240,000 different species!

A Fritillary Butterfly
Fritillary Butterfly

Some emit noxious defense chemicals

A Fruit Fly
Fruit Fly

Fruit flies are among the most common research animals in the world

A Garden Spider
Garden Spider

Garden spiders bounce in their webs to confuse predators

A Giant Desert Centipede
Giant Desert Centipede

They are the largest centipede in North America

A Giant Leopard Moth
Giant Leopard Moth

When giant leopard moths mate, their mating sessions last over 24 hours.

A Giant Weta
Giant Weta

They've been around for 190,000,000 years!

A Giant Wood Moth
Giant Wood Moth

The giant wood moth is the heaviest known moth in the world.

A Glowworm

Found inhabiting dense woodland and caves!

A Gnat

Males form large mating swarms at dusk

A Grasshopper

There are 11,000 known species!

A Green June Beetle
Green June Beetle

• Green June beetles will appear to mate in early summer, typically in May or June. This is why they are also known as May beetles. Therefore, it is very uncommon to see these beetles any other time.

A Gypsy Moth
Gypsy Moth

One of the most invasive species in the world

A Hammerhead Worm
Hammerhead Worm

They are sensitive to light and prefer cool, dark, moist areas.

A Hawk Moth Caterpillar
Hawk Moth Caterpillar

Many hawk moth caterpillars eat toxins from plants, but don’t sequester them the way milkweed butterflies do. Most toxins are excreted.

A Hercules Beetle
Hercules Beetle

This dynastine scarab beetle makes a weird huffing sound when it’s disturbed.

A Hercules Moth
Hercules Moth

Adult Hercules moths don’t eat since they don’t have mouths.

A Honey Bee
Honey Bee

There are only 8 recognized species!

A Horned Beetle
Horned Beetle

These beetles are herbivores but have an intimidating appearance because of the horn-like projection on their heads. However, they are entirely harmless to humans, as they don't sting or bite.

A Horsefly

Horseflies have been seen performing Immelmann turns, much like fighter jets.

A Housefly

The fly has no teeth

A Imperial Moth
Imperial Moth

Since the imperial moth doesn’t eat, it does die shortly after it lays its eggs. Its lifespan is only about one week.

A Inchworm

Inchworms have no legs in the midsection of their body.

A Indianmeal Moth
Indianmeal Moth

Indianmeal moths are not from India

A Insect

Insects go back over 350 million years, making the creatures older than man, flowering plants and dinosaurs.

A Insects

There are an estimated 30 million species!

A Japanese Beetle
Japanese Beetle

Can clear an entire fruit tree in 15 minutes in a swarm

A Joro Spider
Joro Spider

Shares its name with a Japanese "spider demon"!

A Kamehameha Butterfly
Kamehameha Butterfly

State insect of Hawaii

A Khapra Beetle
Khapra Beetle

Khapra beetles are among the most invasive insect species in the world.

A Kissing Bugs
Kissing Bugs

Kissing bugs derive their name from the location they prefer to bite, which is usually close to the lips of the host

A Lace Bug
Lace Bug

May bite when threatened

A Ladybug

There are more than 5,000 species worldwide!

A Leafcutter Ant
Leafcutter Ant

Leafcutter ants have been farming fungus under the forest floor for up to 50 million years!

A Locust

Each locust can eat its weight in plants each day.

A Lone Star Tick
Lone Star Tick

Only females have the ‘lone star’ marking

A Madagascar Hissing Cockroach
Madagascar Hissing Cockroach

One of the largest types of cockroach

A Madora Moth
Madora Moth

Mopane worms (larva) only live for 3 - 4 days after evolving into an adult (madora), during which they mate and lay eggss

A Maggot

Will only live in wet areas

A Mayfly

There are 2,500 known species worldwide!

A Mealworm Beetle
Mealworm Beetle

In 1968, the mealworm beetle traveled to space and circled the moon on the Soviet mission Zond 5.

A Mealybug

They have a symbiotic relationship with ants.

A Milkweed aphids
Milkweed aphids

Can reproduce asexually

A Mole Cricket
Mole Cricket

Adult Mole crickets may fly as far as 5 miles during mating season and are active most of the year.

A Monarch Butterfly
Monarch Butterfly

During migration, Monarch Butterflies may travel 250 or more miles each day.

A Morpho Butterfly
Morpho Butterfly

Collectors prize them for their bright wings

A Mosquito

Only the female mosquito actually sucks blood

A Moth

There are 250,000 different species!

A No See Ums
No See Ums

There are more than 5,000 species.

A Nut Weevil
Nut Weevil

Bore holes in tree nuts and lay their eggs inside

A Oleander Hawk Moth
Oleander Hawk Moth

Oleander hawk moth caterpillars feed on the foliage of oleander, an extremely toxic plant to which they are immune.

A Oriental Cockroach
Oriental Cockroach

Unlike other cockroach species that live indoors living off humans, oriental cockroaches are outdoor scavengers. 

A Owl Butterfly
Owl Butterfly

Owl butterflies derive their name from big spots on each hindwing that resemble owl eyes

A Peacock Butterfly
Peacock Butterfly

The eyespots on this butterfly’s wings deter predators from attacking.

A Pennsylvania Wood Cockroach
Pennsylvania Wood Cockroach

Seeks out sources of light

A Peppered Moth
Peppered Moth

Teachers in schools often use the evolution of the peppered moth as a good example of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

A Pine Beetle
Pine Beetle

Female pine beetles can lay up to 75 eggs at once, and the males will stay with their mates for up to 3 weeks after fertilizing the eggs

A Polyphemus Moth
Polyphemus Moth

The Polyphemus moth doesn’t and can't eat, except when it's a caterpillar!

A Pond Skater
Pond Skater

There are 500 different species!

A Potato Beetle
Potato Beetle

These beetles have a polygynandrous mating system where they choose multiple mates once breeding season starts.

A Powderpost Beetle
Powderpost Beetle

Powderpost beetles prefer living in moist tree limbs, dead wood, and branches. They get into homes through infested joists, paneling, rafters, flooring, and finished wood products.

A Praying Mantis
Praying Mantis

The mantis can turn its head 180 degrees.

A Purple Emperor Butterfly
Purple Emperor Butterfly

Inhabits deciduous forests!

A Puss Moth
Puss Moth

Caterpillars squirt formic acid!

A Rainbow Grasshopper (Dactylotum bicolor)
Rainbow Grasshopper (Dactylotum bicolor)

They have strikingly bright colors

A Redback Spider
Redback Spider

The redback spiders found in New Caledonia differ from other populations in that they don’t practice sexual cannibalism and don’t bite people as much.

A Robber Flies
Robber Flies

The female pretend they are dead if they do not find the male worthy of mating.

A Root Aphids
Root Aphids

Nymphs take 9 to 10 days on average to mature, with a complete lifespan of an estimated 30 days.

A Saddleback Caterpillar
Saddleback Caterpillar

Saddleback caterpillars are solitary in nature, unlike many of their cousins that live in pairs or groups. They only intermingle when it's time to mate and lay eggs.

A Saturniidae Moth
Saturniidae Moth

Some of the largest moths in the world

A Scarab Beetle
Scarab Beetle

The ancient Egyptians worshipped scarabs.

A Scorpion

There are around 2,000 known species!

A Snowberry Clearwing Moth
Snowberry Clearwing Moth

They are pollinators, just like bees.

A Spider Wasp
Spider Wasp

They prey on spiders to feed their larvae or they parasitize other spider wasps.

A Spongy Moth
Spongy Moth

In March of 2022, the Entomological Society of America changed the name of this insect from the European gypsy moth to the spongy moth out of respect for the Romani community, which considers the word "gypsy" to be offensive.

A Spotted Lanternfly
Spotted Lanternfly

The spotted lanternfly is often confused for a moth, but it’s actually a type of planthopper

A Squash Beetle
Squash Beetle

Often mistaken for a ladybug

A Stag Beetle
Stag Beetle

The stag beetle consumes rotting and decaying wood when it is in the larva stage.

A Stick Insect
Stick Insect

There are more than 3,000 different species!

A Superworm

These larvae are native to Central and South America but now occur on every continent except Antarctica

A Tarantula Hawk
Tarantula Hawk

Tarantula hawks are excellent pollinators, especially for milkweed.

A Ten-Lined June Beetle
Ten-Lined June Beetle

These beetles can take up to two years to complete one generation. In fact, larvae can develop in soil for up to 4 years!

A Termite

Their mounds can be up to 9 meters tall!

A Tiger Beetle
Tiger Beetle

The adult tiger beetle is one of the fastest land insects in the world

A Tiger Moth
Tiger Moth

The bright colors of this moth are a signal to predators that it has a terrible taste.

A Titan Beetle
Titan Beetle

Their jaws can bite through a wooden pencil.

A Tomato Hornworm
Tomato Hornworm

The tomato hornworm is a ferocious pest that can eat all parts of a plant, including the fruits.

A Tree Cricket
Tree Cricket

They make music with their wings

A Treehopper

The colors, shapes, and intricacies of treehoppers’ helmets makes them unique and visually stunning.

A Tsetse Fly
Tsetse Fly

Tsetse flies are large biting flies that live in the tropical regions of Africa.

A Underwing Moth
Underwing Moth

Their colorful rear wing makes predators think that they are poisonous, however they are not it is a deceptive feature.

A Wasp

There are around 75,000 recognised species!

A Wax Moth
Wax Moth

The Wax Moth larvae are more dangerous than the adult.

A White Butterfly
White Butterfly

This butterfly determines the smell and taste of a flower with its feet.

A White-shouldered House Moth
White-shouldered House Moth

The larva is the pest because a fully-grown white-shouldered house moth cannot feed; it can only absorb liquid

A Winter Moth
Winter Moth

Only the males fly and the females walk.

A Wolf Spider
Wolf Spider

Carnivorous arachnid that hunts its prey.

A Wood Tick
Wood Tick

Almost always found above 4,000 feet in elevation

A Woolly Aphids
Woolly Aphids

Another name for these fuzzy insects is "boogie-woogie aphids" because of their habit of lifting their posteriors and pulsing them in synchronized motions when threatened.

A Yellow Aphids
Yellow Aphids

These aphids are primarily wingless; however, once the infestation on their host gets too crowded, they develop wings, allowing them to fly to a new host plant.

A Yellowjacket (Yellow Jacket)
Yellowjacket (Yellow Jacket)

Yellowjacket stings account for the majority of deaths from wasp stings

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Insects FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What are the general features of insects?

Insects are all members of the group Arthropoda, which makes them arthropods. It is not uncommon to see this group mislabeled as “anthropods,” but the correct spelling is “arthropod.”

In general, insects share all of the following common features:

  • An exoskeleton
  • A pair of wings
  • A segmented body
  • Six segmented legs
  • One pair of compound eyes
  • One pair of antennae

What is an insect?

An insect is an arthropod that has distinctive characteristics such as three body segments, six jointed legs, one pair of antennae, one pair of compound eyes and an exoskeleton.

How many legs does an insect have?

All true members of class Insecta have three pairs of jointed legs.

What is the life cycle of an insect?

Depending on the species, insects experience either complete or incomplete metamorphosis. The stages of complete metamorphosis are egg, larva, pupa and adult. The stages of incomplete metamorphosis are egg, nymph and adult. Insects generally have short life cycles that may last a few days or a few weeks.

Are spiders insects?

Spiders are not a part of the class Insecta, but they are part of the larger group of arthropods. Some people incorrectly label this group as “anthropods,” but this is not quite right. Because they have four pairs of legs instead of three and only two distinct body segments, they belong to the class Arachnida.

What are the largest flying insects in the world?

The largest flying insects in the world are often beetles like the titan and goliath beetles. When it comes to wingspan, contenders include the white witch and Atlas moths. Other surprisingly large flying insects include tarantula hawks and giant water bugs.

What are the key differences between beetles and bugs?

The greatest differences between beetles and bugs can be found in their phylogenetic families as well as their metamorphoses. Specifically, beetles are from the Coleoptera order of the Insecta class, but bugs are from the Hemiptera order of the Insecta class.

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