Overview

Brief Summary

Dominating the biological spectrum with nearly a million known species, members of Insecta may represent as much as 90% of multicellular life on Earth. Though the incredible diversity of insects overwhelms any attempt at inclusive summarization, adult members of this class can be identified by the following characteristics: three pairs of legs; a segmented body including a head, thorax, and abdomen; and one pair of antennae. Most insects also have compound eyes, a trait exclusive to the phylum Arthropoda to which the class Insecta belongs. Additionally, insects are the only known invertebrates capable of flight, and many species are equipped with one or two pairs of wings. A dizzying array of adaptations, from social behaviors and complex communication to metamorphic cycles and camouflaging mimicry, allow insects to inhabit nearly all environments and persist as one of the most integral aspects of their various ecosystems.

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Comprehensive Description

Description of Insecta

Insects have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body (head, thorax, and abdomen), three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae. They are among the most diverse groups of animals on the planet, including more than a million described species and represent more than half of all known living organisms. There may be as many as 10 million living species. Insects may be found in nearly all environments, although only a small number of species occur in the oceans, a habitat dominated by different type of arthropod, the crustacea. The life cycles of insects vary but most hatch from eggs. Insect growth is constrained by the inelastic exoskeleton and development involves a series of moults. The immature stages can differ from the adults in structure, habit and habitat and can include a passive pupal stage in those groups that undergo complete metamorphosis. Insects that undergo incomplete metamorphosis lack a pupal stage and adults develop through a series of nymphal stages. Fossilized insects of enormous size have been found from the Paleozoic Era, including giant dragonflies with wingspans of 55 to 70 cm (22–28 in). The most diverse insect groups appear to have coevolved with flowering plants. Insects typically move about by walking, flying or occasionally swimming. As it allows for rapid yet stable movement, many insects adopt a tripedal gait in which they walk with their legs touching the ground in alternating triangles. Insects are the only invertebrates to have evolved flight. Many insects spend at least part of their life underwater, with larval adaptations that include gills and some adult insects are aquatic and have adaptations for swimming. Some species, like water striders, are capable of walking on the surface of water. Insects are mostly solitary, but some insects, such as certain bees, ants, and termites are social and live in large, well-organized colonies. Some insects, like earwigs, show maternal care, guarding their eggs and young. Insects can communicate with each other in a variety of ways. Male moths can sense the pheromones of female moths over distances of many kilometers. Other species communicate with sounds: crickets stridulate, or rub their wings together, to attract a mate and repel other males. Lampyridae in the beetle order Coleoptera communicate with light. Some insects damage crops by feeding on sap, leaves or fruits, a few bite humans and livestock, alive and dead, to feed on blood and some are capable of transmitting diseases to humans, pets and livestock. Without insects to pollinate flowers, many crop plants would not be able to reproduce. Many other insects are considered ecologically beneficial as predators and a few provide direct economic benefit. Silkworms and bees have been used extensively by humans for the production of silk and honey, respectively.
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Sensilla detect strain and load changes: insects

The exoskeleton of insects detects strain and load via sensilla organs.

Process information > Sense signals/environmental cues > Touch and mechanical forces


"In their rigid state exoskeletons are stiff laminated composite structures made of chitin fibres embedded in a highly crossed matrix. The exoskeleton acts as a detector of displacement, strain or load via special organs called sensilla, which are partly intergraded into local sections of exoskeleton. These organs amplify the information for the main detector organ, which is connected to the nerve stem. The local information obtained is used to modify the exoskeleton by changing thickness, stiffness and fibre orientation depending on the situation." (The University of Bath 2008)

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Physical Description

Morphology

Sexual Dimorphism

Common and diverse Sexual Dimorphism; can be pronounced; females usually larger than males but the reverse occurs; Sexual Dimorphism also in color and in shape and size of body segments, genitalia and appendages; male appendages often specialized for detecting pheromones, sexual signals, sperm transport or

grasping females; females often with specialized ovipositors.

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Ecology

Associations

Animal / pathogen
Aspergillus flavus infects Insecta

Animal / pathogen
Aspergillus fumigatus infects Insecta

Animal / pathogen
Aspergillus niger infects Insecta

In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Animal / carrion / dead animal feeder
Asterophlyctis sarcoptoides feeds on dead dead, shed exuvia of larva of Insecta

Fungus / infection vector
Basidiobolus ranarum is spread by Insecta

Animal / pathogen
colony of Beauveria bassiana infects Insecta

Animal / predator
Blepharidopterus angulatus is predator of Insecta

Animal / predator
nymph of Campylomma verbasci is predator of Insecta

Animal / carrion / dead animal feeder
Chytriomyces nodulatus feeds on dead dead, shed, submerged exuvia of larva of Insecta

Animal / predator
adult of Compsidolon salicellus is predator of Insecta
Remarks: season: (7)8-9(10)

Animal / pathogen
Conidiobolus coronatus infects Insecta

Animal / pathogen
Conidiobolus osmodes infects Insecta

Animal / pathogen
Conidiobolus thromboides infects Insecta

Animal / predator
adult of Deraeocoris lutescens is predator of Insecta

Animal / predator
nymph of Deraeocoris olivaceus is predator of Insecta

Animal / predator
nymph of Deraeocoris ruber is predator of Insecta

Animal / predator
leaf (sticky hairs) of Drosera is predator of Insecta

Animal / predator
nymph of Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus is predator of egg of Insecta

Animal / predator
nymph of Eurydema oleracea is predator of egg of Insecta

Animal / pathogen
Furia americana infects adult of Insecta

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
cyst of Haplometra cylindracea endoparasitises body cavity of larva of Insecta

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
larva of Hymenolepis diminuta endoparasitises adult of Insecta

Plant / pollenated
Insecta pollenates or fertilises flower of Epipactis palustris

Plant / pollenated
adult of Insecta pollenates or fertilises flower of

Animal / predator
Lyctocoris campestris is predator of Insecta
Other: major host/prey

Animal / predator
Orthotylus marginalis is predator of Insecta

Animal / predator
adult of Phylus coryli is predator of Insecta
Remarks: season: end 6-mid 8

Animal / predator
adult of Phylus melanocephalus is predator of Insecta
Remarks: season: early 6-early 8

Animal / predator
leaf of Pinguicula is predator of Insecta

Animal / predator
Podops inuncta is predator of larva of Insecta
Remarks: Other: uncertain

Animal / associate
synnematum of Polycephalomyces anamorph of Polycephalomyces ramosus is associated with Insecta

Animal / predator
nymph of Psallus ambiguus is predator of Insecta
Remarks: season: 5

Animal / predator
nymph of Psallus betuleti is predator of Insecta
Remarks: season: late 4-mid 6

Animal / parasitoid / endoparasitoid
larva of Ravinia pernix is endoparasitoid of Insecta

Animal / carrion / dead animal feeder
Rhizoclosmatium globosum feeds on dead dead, shed exuvia of larva of Insecta

Animal / parasite
larva of Sarcophaga melanura parasitises Insecta
Other: minor host/prey

Animal / predator
pitcher of Sarraceniaceae is predator of Insecta

Animal / carrion / dead animal feeder
Siphonaria variabilis feeds on dead dead, shed exuvia of larva of Insecta

Animal / predator
imago of Tenthredinidae is predator of Insecta

Animal / predator
bladder of Utricularia australis is predator of larva of Insecta

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Known predators

Insecta is prey of:
Actinopterygii
Ardeidae
Rallus
Anseriformes
Charadriiformes
Passeriformes
Scincidae
Egretta
Gekkonidae
Spermophilus tridecemlineatus
Araneae
Bartramia longicauda
Sturnella neglecta
Pooecetes gramineus
Spizella passerina
Spizella pallida
Eremophila alpestris
Anura
Thamnophis
Dendroica petechia
Geothlypis trichas
Melospiza melodia
Rana pipiens
Empidonax minimus
Vireo gilvus
Icterus galbula
Pheucticus ludovicianus
Catharus fuscescens
Poecile atricapillus
Troglodytes aedon
Pipilo
Dumetella carolinensis
Toxostoma rufum
Vireo olivaceus
Carduelis tristis
Turdus migratorius
Agelaius phoeniceus
Quiscalus quiscula
Arvicolinae
Sciurognathi
Paridae
Abax
Philanthus
Soricidae
Alestes imberi
Barilius microcephalus
Barbus
Clarias gariepinus
Gerridae
Haplochromis kiwinge
Bathyclarias worthingtoni
Haplochromis euchilus
Varicorhinus nyasensis
Haplochromis johnstoni
Haplochromis dimidiatus
Synodontis zambesensis
Aves
Mammalia
Pteropodidae
insectivorous
carnivorous
Chiroptera
Gambusia
Sialia
Junco hyemalis
Gomphus
Alburnus alburnus
zoobenthos
Salmo trutta
Salvelinus alpinus
salakka
Insecta
Hirundinidae
Stercorarius longicaudus
Stercorarius parasiticus
Marcusenios macrolepidotus
Mormyrus longirostris
Haplochromis darlingi
Tilapia rendalli
Hydrocynus vittatus
Brachystosternus
Tropidurus
Chordeiles
Geositta
Melaniris chagresi
Characinidae
Poeciliidae
bleak
Geococcyx californianus
Misumenops
Megaselia
Nepenthosyrphus
Endonepenthia
Peirretia
Tripteroides
protozoa
bacteria
Xenoplatyura
Megasalia
Xylota
Nepenthomyia
Uranotaenia
Misumenops nepenthicola
Endonepenthia schuitemakeri
Tripteroides tenax
Tripteroides bambusa
Pierretia urceola
bacteria/protozoa
Xenoplatyura beaveri
Uranotaenia moultoni
Tripteroides nepenthis
Nepenthomyia malayana
Megaselia deningi
Tripteroides dofleini
Uranotaenia nivipleura
Theridion
Chloropidae
Uranotaenia belkini
Uranotaenia bosseri
Uranotaenia brunhesi
Uranotaenia damasei
Uranotaenia nepenthes
Blaesoxipha fletcheri
Metriocnemus knabi
Bdellodes
Armigeres magnus
Zwickia
Barbus paludinosus
Rhinichthys atratulus
Semotilus atromaculatus
Coccinella septempunctata
Lepisosteus osseus
Lepisosteus platostomus
Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
Salvelinus confluentus
Pseudodoras niger
Lates niloticus
Lepomis megalotis
Etheostoma caeruleum
Rana okaloosae
Bufo americanus
Bufo marinus
Dendrobates auratus
Ambystoma annulatum
Anolis equestris
Basiliscus vittatus
Cyclura cornuta
Agkistrodon piscivorus
Struthio camelus
Gavia immer
Gavia stellata
Podilymbus podiceps
Butorides virescens
Egretta thula
Egretta tricolor
Mycteria americana
Eudocimus ruber
Cygnus olor
Chen caerulescens
Anas fulvigula
Anas strepera
Anas cyanoptera
Anas americana
Aix sponsa
Aythya americana
Buteo lineatus
Falco biarmicus
Colinus virginianus
Callipepla californica
Callipepla gambelii
Cyrtonyx montezumae
Alectoris chukar
Coturnix chinensis
Coturnix coromandelica
Coturnix delegorguei
Coturnix pectoralis
Perdicula asiatica
Crossoptilon mantchuricum
Grus japonensis
Gallinula chloropus
Actitis macularia
Recurvirostra americana
Larus californicus
Larus canus
Gallicolumba luzonica
Cuculus canorus
Otus asio
Otus trichopsis
Micrathene whitneyi
Strix varia
Chordeiles minor
Chaetura pelagica
Selasphorus platycercus
Lampornis clemenciae
Amazilia tzacatl
Tyrannus melancholicus
Tyrannus forficatus
Pyrocephalus rubinus
Progne dominicensis
Bombycilla cedrorum
Mimus polyglottos
Auriparus flaviceps
Sitta canadensis
Sitta pygmaea
Certhia americana
Dendroica magnolia
Dendroica palmarum
Wilsonia citrina
Amphispiza bilineata
Passerella iliaca
Plectrophenax nivalis
Sturnus vulgaris
Aphelocoma ultramarina
Corvus corax
Corvus caurinus
Nucifraga columbiana
Catharus guttatus
Polioptila melanura
Sorex dispar
Sorex gaspensis
Sorex merriami
Suncus murinus
Neurotrichus gibbsii
Parascalops breweri
Myotis auriculus
Myotis austroriparius
Myotis grisescens
Lasiurus seminolus
Nycticeius humeralis
Pipistrellus hesperus
Choeronycteris mexicana
Macrotus californicus
Eumops glaucinus
Eumops perotis
Marmota broweri
Spermophilus beecheyi
Spermophilus brunneus
Spermophilus lateralis
Glaucomys sabrinus
Glaucomys volans
Sciurus niger
Sciurus carolinensis
Ammospermophilus interpres
Ammospermophilus leucurus
Tamias dorsalis
Tamias merriami
Tamias quadrivittatus
Dipodomys californicus
Dipodomys compactus
Perognathus fasciatus
Peromyscus gossypinus
Peromyscus boylii
Peromyscus truei
Clethrionomys californicus
Microtus longicaudus
Reithrodontomys megalotis
Reithrodontomys montanus
Reithrodontomys raviventris
Sigmodon arizonae
Sigmodon fulviventer
Rattus exulans
Onychomys arenicola
Zapus hudsonius
Ursus arctos
Lontra canadensis
Bassariscus astutus
Nasua nasua
Cerdocyon thous
Otocyon megalotis
Cephalophus niger
Alligator mississippiensis
Paleosuchus trigonatus
Chaetodipus formosus
Chaetodipus nelsoni
Chaetodipus penicillatus
Chaetodipus baileyi
Didelphis albiventris
Didelphis marsupialis
Metachirus nudicaudatus
Antechinus swainsonii
Dasycercus cristicauda
Dasyurus maculatus
Planigale tenuirostris
Trichosurus caninus
Dendrolagus matschiei
Coturnix coturnix
Coturnix adansonii
Falcipennis canadensis
Cygnus atratus
Alopochen aegyptiacus
Ortyxelos meiffrenii
Ardea alba
Asturina nitida
Ictinia mississippiensis
Cacatua alba
Mellisuga helenae
Otus kennicottii
Ciccaba nigrolineata
Pulsatrix perspicillata
Legatus leucophaius
Microcebus rufus
Eulemur rubriventer
Arctocebus calabarensis
Euoticus elegantulus
Galago alleni
Saguinus bicolor
Saguinus nigricollis
Callicebus personatus
Cebus olivaceus
Saimiri oerstedii
Lophocebus albigena
Papio hamadryas
Colobus angolensis
Nasalis larvatus
Hylobates klossii
Anathana ellioti
Georychus capensis
Elephantulus myurus
Macroscelides proboscideus
Manis javanica
Manis temminckii
Dryomys nitedula
Eliomys quercinus
Muscardinus avellanarius
Hydromys chrysogaster
Notomys alexis
Pseudomys higginsi
Heloderma horridum
Ambystoma mexicanum
Gymnobelideus leadbeateri
Ailuropoda melanoleuca
Helarctos malayanus
Melursus ursinus
Tremarctos ornatus
Pseudalopex griseus
Pseudalopex vetulus
Vulpes cana
Vulpes chama
Galidia elegans
Galidictis grandidieri
Mungotictis decemlineata
Bdeogale nigripes
Crossarchus obscurus
Dologale dybowskii
Herpestes edwardsii
Herpestes ichneumon
Suricata suricatta
Arctonyx collaris
Melogale everetti
Melogale moschata
Melogale personata
Mydaus marchei
Conepatus chinga
Conepatus semistriatus
Galictis cuja
Ictonyx striatus
Martes melampus
Mustela altaica
Mustela putorius
Mustela sibirica
Bassaricyon gabbii
Chrotogale owstoni
Paguma larvata
Prionodon pardicolor
Sus celebensis
Callosciurus erythraeus
Callosciurus prevostii
Marmota camtschatica
Ratufa indica
Rhinosciurus laticaudatus
Spermophilus annulatus
Sundasciurus hippurus
Petaurista elegans
Pteromys momonga
Dendromus mystacalis
Hypogeomys antimena
Arvicola terrestris
Gerbillus cheesmani
Meriones crassus
Pachyuromys duprasi
Tatera indica
Akodon cursor
Neotomodon alstoni
Peromyscus aztecus
Chaetophractus villosus
Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Solenodon cubanus
Solenodon paradoxus
Limnogale mergulus
Potamogale velox
Hemiechinus aethiopicus
Crocidura leucodon
Nectogale elegans
Myotis myotis
Myotis mystacinus
Plecotus auritus
Plecotus austriacus
Plecotus rafinesquii
Miniopterus australis
Eumops dabbenei
Nyctinomops laticaudatus
Rhinolophus euryale
Rhinolophus ferrumequinum
Hipposideros diadema
Balionycteris maculata
Nyctimene albiventer
Cardioderma cor
Lavia frons
Macroderma gigas
Megaderma lyra
Vampyrum spectrum
Glossophaga commissarisi
Musonycteris harrisoni
Natalus lepidus
Amorphochilus schnablii
Furipterus horrens
Thyroptera tricolor
Prionailurus iriomotensis
Argiope aurantia
Myotis septentrionalis
Canis lupus familiaris
Papio anubis
Papio cynocephalus
Papio papio
Papio ursinus

Based on studies in:
USA: California (Marine)
Polynesia (Reef)
Canada: Manitoba (Forest)
Malawi, Lake Nyasa (Lake or pond)
Mexico: Guerrero (Coastal)
USA: Iowa, Mississippi River (River)
Malaysia (Swamp)
USA: Massachusetts, Cape Ann (Marine)
England, River Thames (River)
USA: Florida, Everglades (Estuarine)
USA: Florida, South Florida (Swamp)
Panama, Gatun Lake (Lake or pond)
Peru (Coastal)
England: Oxfordshire, Wytham Wood (Forest)
USA: Arizona (Forest, Montane)
Malawi (River)
Africa, Crocodile Creek, Lake Nyasa (Lake or pond)
Africa, Lake McIlwaine (Lake or pond)
Austria, Hafner Lake (Lake or pond)
Austria, Vorderer Finstertaler Lake (Lake or pond)
Finland (Lake or pond, Littoral)
Russia (Tundra)
unknown (Temporary pool)
Malaysia, W. Malaysia (Plant substrate)
Sri Lanka (Plant substrate)
Madagascar (Plant substrate)
Seychelles (Plant substrate)
USA: NE USA (Plant substrate)
Hong Kong (Plant substrate)
USA: Kentucky, Station 1 (River)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • G. Fryer, The trophic interrelationships and ecology of some littoral communities of Lake Nyasa, Proc. London Zool. Soc. 132:153-229, from p. 219 (1959).
  • G. Fryer, The trophic interrelationships and ecology of some littoral communities of Lake Nyasa, Proc. London Zool. Soc. 132:153-281, from p. 218 (1959).
  • A. Yanez-Arancibia, Taxonomia, ecologia y estructura de las comunidades de peces en lagunas costeras con bocas efimeras del Pacifico de Mexico.
  • L. D. Harris and G. B. Bowman, Vertebrate predator subsystem. In: Grasslands, Systems Analysis and Man, A. I. Breymeyer and G. M. Van Dyne, Eds. (International Biological Programme Series, no. 19, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, England, 1980), pp. 591-
  • A. Yanez-Arancibia, Taxonomia, ecologia y estructura de las comunidades de peces en lagunas costeras con bocas efimeras del Pacifico de Mexico. Cent. Cienc. del Mar y Limnol. Univ. Nal. Auton. Mex. Publ. Espec. 2:1-306 (1978).
  • D. I. Rasmussen, Biotic communities of Kaibab Plateau, Arizona, Ecol. Monogr. 11(3):228-275, from p. 261 (1941).
  • C. A. Carlson, Summer bottom fauna of the Mississippi River, above Dam 19, Keokuk, Iowa, Ecology 49(1):162-168, from p. 167 (1968).
  • T. Mizuno and J. I. Furtado, Food chain. In: Tasek Bera, J. I. Furtado and S. Mori, Eds. (Junk, The Hague, Netherlands, 1982), pp. 357-359, from p. 358.
  • R. W. Dexter, The marine communities of a tidal inlet at Cape Ann, Massachusetts: a study in bio-ecology, Ecol. Monogr. 17:263-294, from p. 287 (1947).
  • R. W. Dexter, The marine communities of a tidal inlet at Cape Ann, Massachusetts: a study in bio-ecology, Ecol. Monogr. 17:263-294, from p. 288 (1947).
  • B. E. Marshall, The fish of Lake McIlwaine. In Lake McIlwaine: the eutrophication and recovery of a tropical man-made lake (J. A. Thornton, Ed.) Vol 49 Monographia Biologicae, D. W. Junk Publishers, The Hague, pp. 156-188, from p. 180 (1982).
  • H. W. Koepcke and M. Koepcke, Sobre el proceso de transformacion de la materia organica en las playas arenosas marinas del Peru. Publ. Univ. Nac. Mayer San Marcos, Zoologie Serie A, No. 8, from p. 24 (1952).
  • S. H. Hurlbert, M. S. Mulla, and H. R. Willson, Effects of an organophosphorus insecticide on the phytoplankton, zooplankton, and insect populations of freshwater ponds, Ecol. Monog. 42(1):269-299, from p. 293 (1972).
  • K. H. Mann, Case history: The River Thames. In: River Ecology and Man (R. T. Oglesby, C. A. Carlson, J. A. McCann, Eds.), Academic Press, New York and London, pp. 215-232 (1972), from p. 224.
  • R. A. Beaver, Fauna and food webs of pitcher plants in West Malaysia, The Malayan Nature Journal 33(1):1-10, from p. 8 (1979).
  • W. E. Odum and E. J. Heald, The detritus-based food web of an estuarine mangrove community, In Estuarine Research, Vol. 1, Chemistry, Biology and the Estuarine System, Academic Press, New York, pp. 265-286, from p. 281 (1975).
  • R. A. Beaver, 1985. Geographical variation in food web structure in Nepenthes pitcher plants. Ecol. Entomol. 10:241-248, from p. 243.
  • R. A. Beaver, 1985. Geographical variation in food web structure in Nepenthes pitcher plants. Ecol. Entomol. 10:241-248, from p. 242.
  • W. E. Bradshaw, 1983. Interactions between the mosquito Wyeomyia smithii, the midge Metriocnemus knabi, and their carnivorous host Sarracenia purpurea. In: Phytotelmata: Terrestrial Plants as Hosts for Aquatic Insect Communities, J. H. Frank and L. P.
  • B. Corker, 1984. The ecology of the pitcher plant, Nepenthes mirabilis, andits associated fauna in Hong Kong. Ph.D. thesis, University of Hong Kong. Prior number: K. Schoenly and R. A. Beaver (1988) 3
  • G. Fryer, 1957. The trophic interrelationships and ecology of some littoral communities of Lake Nyasa with special reference to the fishes, and a discussion of the evolution of a group of rock-frequenting Cichlidae. Proc. Zool. Soc. London 132:153-281, f
  • G. W. Minshall, 1967. Role of allochthonous detritus in the trophic structure of a woodland springbrook community. Ecology 48:139-149, from pp. 145, 148.
  • F. Schiemer, M. Bobek, P. Gludovatz, A. Ioschenkohl, I. Zweimuller and M. Martinetz, Trophische Interaktionen im Pelagial des Hafnersees, Sitzungsber. Akad. Wiss. Wien Math. Naturwiss. Kl. Abt. 1:191-209 (1982).
  • G. C. Varley, The concept of energy flow applied to a woodland community. In: Animal Populations in Relation to Their Food Resources, A. Watson, Ed. (Blackwell Scientific, Oxford, England, 1970), pp. 389-401, from p. 389.
  • J. L. Harrison, The distribution of feeding habits among animals in a tropical rain forest, J. Anim. Ecol. 31:53-63, from p. 61 (1962).
  • W. A. Niering, Terrestrial ecology of Kapingamarangi Atoll, Caroline Islands, Ecol. Monogr. 33(2):131-160, from p. 157 (1963).
  • R. F. Johnston, Predation by short-eared owls on a Salicornia salt marsh, Wilson Bull. 68(2):91-102, from p. 99 (1956).
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 410 (1930).
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 393 (1930).
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 406 (1930).
  • G. Fryer, The trophic interrelationships and ecology of some littoral communities of Lake Nyasa, Proc. London Zool. Soc. 132:153-281, from p. 217 (1959).
  • T. M. Zaret and R. T. Paine, Species introduction in a tropical lake, Science 182:449-455 (1973), from p. 452.
  • R. Pechlaner, G. Bretschko, P. Gollmann, H. Pfeifer, M. Tilzer and H. P. Weissenbach, Ein Hochgebirgssee (Vorderer Finstertaler See, K htai, Tirol) als Modell des Energietransportes durch ein limnisches Oekosystem, Verh. Dtsch. Zool. Ges. 65:47-56, from p
  • J. Sarvala, Paarjarven energiatalous, Luonnon Tutkija 78:181-190, from p. 185.
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 383 (1930).
  • V. I. Osmolovskaya, Geographical distribution of raptors in Kazakhstan plains and their importance for pest control, Tr. Acad. Sci. USSR Inst. Geogr. 41:5-77 (1948). (In Russian.)
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
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Known prey organisms

Insecta preys on:

Helianthus
Agropyron
Stipa
Salix petiolaris
Salix longifolia
Corylus
Pyrola
Cornus
Aralia
Prunus
Amelanchier
Symphoricarpos
Pryola
herbs
total litter
fungi
fruit
canopy--leaves
flowers
leaves and trunks
roots
detritus
phytoplankton
periphyton
shrubs
grass
herb
Chironomidae
Pandanus
Lepironia
Insecta
tundra vegetation
berries
Spartina glabra
Spartina patena
algae
bacteria
Rotifera
Diaptomus
Cyclops
Asplanchna
mangrove leaves
Orchelimum vulgare

Based on studies in:
USA: California (Marine)
Polynesia (Reef)
USA: Arizona (Forest, Montane)
Canada: Manitoba (Grassland)
England: Oxfordshire, Wytham Wood (Forest)
Malaysia (Rainforest)
USA: Florida, Everglades (Estuarine)
Mexico: Guerrero (Coastal)
USA: Florida, South Florida (Swamp)
USA: Iowa, Mississippi River (River)
Scotland (Lake or pond)
USA: Massachusetts, Cape Ann (Marine)
Africa, Lake McIlwaine (Lake or pond)
unknown (Temporary pool)
Russia (Tundra)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • A. Yanez-Arancibia, Taxonomia, ecologia y estructura de las comunidades de peces en lagunas costeras con bocas efimeras del Pacifico de Mexico.
  • L. D. Harris and G. B. Bowman, Vertebrate predator subsystem. In: Grasslands, Systems Analysis and Man, A. I. Breymeyer and G. M. Van Dyne, Eds. (International Biological Programme Series, no. 19, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, England, 1980), pp. 591-
  • A. Yanez-Arancibia, Taxonomia, ecologia y estructura de las comunidades de peces en lagunas costeras con bocas efimeras del Pacifico de Mexico. Cent. Cienc. del Mar y Limnol. Univ. Nal. Auton. Mex. Publ. Espec. 2:1-306 (1978).
  • D. I. Rasmussen, Biotic communities of Kaibab Plateau, Arizona, Ecol. Monogr. 11(3):228-275, from p. 261 (1941).
  • C. A. Carlson, Summer bottom fauna of the Mississippi River, above Dam 19, Keokuk, Iowa, Ecology 49(1):162-168, from p. 167 (1968).
  • N. C. Morgan and D. S. McLusky, A summary of the Loch Leven IBP results in relation to lake management and future research, Proc. R. Soc. Edinburgh Series B 74:407-416, from p. 408 (1972).
  • T. Mizuno and J. I. Furtado, Food chain. In: Tasek Bera, J. I. Furtado and S. Mori, Eds. (Junk, The Hague, Netherlands, 1982), pp. 357-359, from p. 358.
  • R. W. Dexter, The marine communities of a tidal inlet at Cape Ann, Massachusetts: a study in bio-ecology, Ecol. Monogr. 17:263-294, from p. 287 (1947).
  • R. W. Dexter, The marine communities of a tidal inlet at Cape Ann, Massachusetts: a study in bio-ecology, Ecol. Monogr. 17:263-294, from p. 288 (1947).
  • B. E. Marshall, The fish of Lake McIlwaine. In Lake McIlwaine: the eutrophication and recovery of a tropical man-made lake (J. A. Thornton, Ed.) Vol 49 Monographia Biologicae, D. W. Junk Publishers, The Hague, pp. 156-188, from p. 180 (1982).
  • S. H. Hurlbert, M. S. Mulla, and H. R. Willson, Effects of an organophosphorus insecticide on the phytoplankton, zooplankton, and insect populations of freshwater ponds, Ecol. Monog. 42(1):269-299, from p. 293 (1972).
  • W. E. Odum and E. J. Heald, The detritus-based food web of an estuarine mangrove community, In Estuarine Research, Vol. 1, Chemistry, Biology and the Estuarine System, Academic Press, New York, pp. 265-286, from p. 281 (1975).
  • G. C. Varley, The concept of energy flow applied to a woodland community. In: Animal Populations in Relation to Their Food Resources, A. Watson, Ed. (Blackwell Scientific, Oxford, England, 1970), pp. 389-401, from p. 389.
  • J. L. Harrison, The distribution of feeding habits among animals in a tropical rain forest, J. Anim. Ecol. 31:53-63, from p. 61 (1962).
  • W. A. Niering, Terrestrial ecology of Kapingamarangi Atoll, Caroline Islands, Ecol. Monogr. 33(2):131-160, from p. 157 (1963).
  • R. F. Johnston, Predation by short-eared owls on a Salicornia salt marsh, Wilson Bull. 68(2):91-102, from p. 99 (1956).
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 410 (1930).
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 393 (1930).
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 406 (1930).
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 383 (1930).
  • V. I. Osmolovskaya, Geographical distribution of raptors in Kazakhstan plains and their importance for pest control, Tr. Acad. Sci. USSR Inst. Geogr. 41:5-77 (1948). (In Russian.)
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Wings perform high-quality flight: insects
 

Wings of insects of different size perform high-quality flight by producing different flow structures as they flap.

   
  "The elevated aerodynamic performance of insects has been attributed in part to the generation and maintenance of a stable region of vorticity known as the leading edge vortex (LEV). One explanation for the stability of the LEV is that spiraling axial flow within the vortex core drains energy into the tip vortex, forming a leading-edge spiral vortex analogous to the flow structure generated by delta wing aircraft...The results suggest that the transport of vorticity from the leading edge to the wake that permits prolonged vortex attachment takes different forms at different Re [Reynolds numbers - mostly affected by insect's size]." (Birch et al. 2004:1063)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Birch JM; Dickson WB; Dickinson MH. 2004. Force production and flow structure of the leading edge vortex on flapping wings at high and low Reynolds numbers. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 207: 1063-1072.
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Functional adaptation

Wings combine support and material economy: winged insects
 

The wings of insects combine structural support and material economy because they are flat, braced surfaces.

   
  "Insect wings provide yet another example of braced, flat surfaces--cylindrical cantilever beams (veins) support a thin membrane. A pound of fruit-fly wings laid end to end would stretch about 500 miles, a very low mass per unit length--a steel wire to go so far would have about the same diameter as a red blood cell. Yet in each second of flight the tip of a wing moves several meters and reverses direction four hundred times. Other paddles and fins are fairly flat as well, as are some feathers, the book gills of horseshoe crabs, and a scattering of other stiff structures. In all these cases, though, flatness suits functions other than support. From a mechanical viewpoint the flatness of these systems, however impressive, is perhaps best regarded as a necessary evil--and their designs incorporate features that offset their intrinsically low flexural stiffness." (Vogel 2003:439)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
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Functional adaptation

Pigment cells absorb incidental light: insects
 

The ommatidia in the compound eyes of insects absorbs incidental light to prevent it from reaching the lens via "scattering pigment."

   
  "Each ommatidium…consists of several basic parts. There is a layer of transparent cuticle on the outside, which allows light into a lens beneath it. This is usually surrounded by cells containing 'scattering pigment' which absorbs scattered or incidental light rays, so that the only light entering the ommatidium is directly parallel to its axis. This beam of light is directed by the lens down the narrow visual centre or rhabdom where it reacts with pigment, stimulating the nerve cells that surround the rhabdom. The nerve cells pass the message to the optical centre in the insect's 'brain' where it is interpreted…The ommatidia of different insects are varied. They may even be of different sizes within a single compound eye. The scattering pigment reduces the total amount of light entering the eye, so insects active by day may find themselves blind at dusk when the light is lower and more diffused. Nocturnal insects, however, often have the ability to withdraw the scattering pigment from their eyes at night in order to absorb every scrap of available light and to allow light from many of the lens facets to focus on a single light-sensitive rhabdom, thus increasing the effective aperture of the lens system. Many moths go even further, possessing (like cats and some other animals) a kind of mirror - the tapetum - at the back of the eye: this reflects light back through the retinal cells, so every beam of light is used twice over." (Foy and Oxford Scientific Films 1982:122-123)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Foy, Sally; Oxford Scientific Films. 1982. The Grand Design: Form and Colour in Animals. Lingfield, Surrey, U.K.: BLA Publishing Limited for J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, Aldine House, London. 238 p.
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Functional adaptation

Sensilla detect strain and load changes: insects
 

The exoskeleton of insects detects strain and load via sensilla organs.

   
  "In their rigid state exoskeletons are stiff laminated composite structures made of chitin fibres embedded in a highly crossed matrix. The exoskeleton acts as a detector of displacement, strain or load via special organs called sensilla, which are partly intergraded into local sections of exoskeleton. These organs amplify the information for the main detector organ, which is connected to the nerve stem. The local information obtained is used to modify the exoskeleton by changing thickness, stiffness and fibre orientation depending on the situation." (The University of Bath 2008)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
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Functional adaptation

Crystals of metal salts improve cutting ability: herbivorous insects
 

The mandibles of many herbivorous insects have exceptional cutting abilities due to the presence of zinc or managese salts.

       
  "Many invertebrates use crystals of metal salts to harden their cutting, rasping, and grinding equipmentThe mandibles of herbivorous insects contain zinc or manganese salts (Vincent 1990)." (Vogel 2003:333)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
  • Vincent, JFV. 1990. Structural biomaterials. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
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Functional adaptation

Hairs sense environmental cues: insects
 

Socketed hairs of insects detect environmental stimuli through vibration.

           
  "Most insects have socketed hairs (sensory setae) scattered over much of the body which vibrate in response to sounds and may also be sensitive to touch, humidity and light. Nocturnal insects, such as cockroaches, are particularly sensitive to sounds via their setae and have been known to shy away from vibrations issued at 3000 cycles per second--way beyond human hearing capabilities. The setae may also play other roles. Locusts use those on the head, between the antennae, to judge the direction and humidity of the breeze, and climb some eminence for this purpose. Subsequently, they may use the information thus gained to fly to areas of low pressure where rain is likely to induce lusher feeding pasture." (Wootton 1984:48)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Wootton, A. 1984. Insects of the World. Blandford. 224 p.
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Functional adaptation

Organs sense environmental cues: insects
 

Insects interpret sensory input from antennae using Johnston's organs.

       
  "Some insects' antennae do in fact act as sound-wave receivers. Those of male midges and mosquitoes are quite as feather-like as moths' but are geared to respond to the sound of the females' wing beats, the whine of other males' flight, as well as that of other species, being ignored. While the antennae receive the sounds, interpretation of the latter is made by special structures at their base called Johnston's organs. These organs are found on most adult winged insects, as well as in aquatic insects and larvae, although they may have varying sensory roles, such as assessing air velocity, water current and, notably in subterranean insects, the effects of gravity." (Wootton 1984:46-47)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Wootton, A. 1984. Insects of the World. Blandford. 224 p.
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Functional adaptation

Multiple legs allow sudden stops: insects
 

Insects can stop dead without falling over because three legs are always on the ground while moving.

     
  "Extra legs do not help an animal to move faster. The millipede is slow for all its legs - in fact, if it hurries it is liable to trip over its own feet! Insects have six legs and tend to have three of them on land at any given moment while moving; they can therefore stop dead without falling over." (Foy and Oxford Scientific Films 1982:46)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Foy, Sally; Oxford Scientific Films. 1982. The Grand Design: Form and Colour in Animals. Lingfield, Surrey, U.K.: BLA Publishing Limited for J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, Aldine House, London. 238 p.
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Functional adaptation

Ocelli sense length of daylight: insects
 

The ocelli of insects sense day length via a small lens and pigmented retinal cells.

   
  "Each ocellus usually consists of a small lens backed up by several pigmented retinal cells, which can determine the quality and source of light and usually perceive something moving nearby. Ocelli usually look like small dark dots, and are often grouped in a triangle on the back of an insect's head. They enable the insect to judge the length of daylight, for example, by which it may regulate its whole life cycle. Spiders' eyes form extremely good images and have, for their size, excellent resolution." (Foy and Oxford Scientific Films 1982:122)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Foy, Sally; Oxford Scientific Films. 1982. The Grand Design: Form and Colour in Animals. Lingfield, Surrey, U.K.: BLA Publishing Limited for J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, Aldine House, London. 238 p.
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Functional adaptation

Eyes see in various wavelengths: birds
 

Eyes of some birds, insects, and fish see better than humans because they can detect ultraviolet and/or infrared light.

         
  "The eyes of some birds, insects, and fish respond to ultraviolet wavelengths. Other animals have a spectral response that includes red or near-infrared. This response is helpful in penetrating cloudy or murky conditions." (Courtesy of the Biomimicry Guild)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Wolpert, HD. February 2002. Photonic systems in nature can offer technical insights to designers of optical systems and detectors. Spie's Oemagazine. 26-29.
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Functional adaptation

Foot adaptations climb rough and smooth surfaces: insects
 

Feet of insects adjust to rough or smooth surfaces by engaging either claws or adhesive foot-pads.

     
  "Researchers Bert Holldobler and Walter Federle have studied how insects can adhere to both rough and smooth surfaces. They discovered that when an insect walks, two claws at the front of each foot grip the surface and then begin to retract. If the surface is rough, the claws engage and the insect scrabbles along. If the surface is smooth, the hinged claws retract further and adhesive foot-pads protrude between the claws. A miniature hydraulic system helps deploy the footpads." (Courtesy of the Biomimicry Guild)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
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Functional adaptation

Suspending reproduction conserves energy: insects
 

The reproductive or growth cycles of many insects are suspended until conditions are favorable via diapause, a hibernation-like mechanism.

     
  "Juvenile insects often undergo a period of suspended development and growth which may be accompanied by a decrease in their metabolic rate. This is known as diapause. It also occurs in adult insects that survive the winter (often referred to as overwintering), such as various species of butterfly and beetle. In these cases the diapause can be thought of as a hibernation mechanism…During overwintering diapause, fertilized eggs that were produced during the fall by the females are retained internally, and their development is halted, while still at an early stage, until the spring. Then, once the adult insects have emerged from this torpid state, their eggs ripen and are laid." (Shuker 2001:109)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Shuker, KPN. 2001. The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. 240 p.
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Functional adaptation

Mouthparts manipulate food: insects
 

The mouthparts of insects hold food steady during mastication with accessory jaw-like structures, called maxillae.

       
  "Behind the mandibles is another pair of jaw-like structures, the maxillae. These may be simple in shape but often they bear soft lip-like appendages, and projections like tiny antennae, called palps. These bear many sensilla…sensitive cells for tasting, smelling, and touching the food. The maxillae are not usually designed for cutting or chewing food, but they may be used to hold it steady and pass it forwards through the chopping mandibles." (Foy and Oxford Scientific Films 1982:159)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Foy, Sally; Oxford Scientific Films. 1982. The Grand Design: Form and Colour in Animals. Lingfield, Surrey, U.K.: BLA Publishing Limited for J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, Aldine House, London. 238 p.
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Functional adaptation

Wings work in unison: insects
 

Insects with two pairs of wings have them work in unison by attaching the wings in various ways, with hooks, folds, or catches.

           
  "[I]n those insects with two pairs of fully operative wings, both are commonly linked together so that they work in unison. Linking devices vary widely. In butterflies and some moths, the upper and lower wings perform as one because of an overlapping fold on the hind edge of the forewing, which thus pushes the hindwing with it on the down stroke. In others there is a more elaborate coupling device consisting of a spine, or frenulum, on one wing which is held by a catch or a group of bristles (retinaculum) on the other. Bees and wasps have an even more elaborate series of hooks and catches on their wing margins." (Wootton 1984:36)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Wootton, A. 1984. Insects of the World. Blandford. 224 p.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
                                        
Specimen Records:2,732,690Public Records:1,945,440
Specimens with Sequences:2,216,474Public Species:66,800
Specimens with Barcodes:2,039,982Public BINs:233,364
Species:190,498         
Species With Barcodes:147,718         
          
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Locations of barcode samples

Collection Sites: world map showing specimen collection locations for Insecta

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Barcode data

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Insects pollinate many of our crops, such as most orchard fruits, vegetables, and clover, which is an important livestock feed. Approximately a third of our food production depends on pollinator services, with insects, and particularly bees, doing most of the work (Buchmann & Nabham 1996, Free 1993, Ghazoul 2005, Klein et al. 2007). Most of the other direct services provided by insects are of relatively minor significance. While many people enjoy the honey produced by bee colonies, the use of insects themselves as food (entomophagy) is rather limited in humans (DeFoliart 1999, Menzel & D'Aluisio. 1998). Other insect products like lacquer and dyes from scale insects, beeswax, and silk from moth larvae support major industries, but none of these materials are essential to human welfare.

By far the most important benefits of insects to human societies are due to the ways they shape the world around us (Schowalter 2000, Waldbauer 2003). Without insects, most of our landscapes would look very different and would be much less hospitable to us and many other organisms. As herbivores, pollinators, and seed dispersers, insects have had an immense impact on the adaptive radiation of plants, particularly angiosperms (Grimaldi & Engel 2005). Their activities control many contemporary plant populations and affect the phenology and resource allocation of plants, thereby influencing the composition of plant communities (Weisser & Siemann 2000). Insects also participate in the decomposition of organic materials and thus facilitate the recycling of carbon, nitrogen, and other nutrients (Wardle 2002). In their absence, dung, carrion, dead wood, and leaf litter would accummulate in many terrestrial and aquatic environments. Many animals, including most vertebrates and spiders, rely heavily on insects in their diets, and as predators, parasitoids, and vectors of disease, insects control the populations of other animals (Thompson & Althoff 1999).

  • Buchmann, S.L. and G. P. Nabhan. 1996 The Forgotten Pollinators. Washington, DC: Island Press.
  • Free, J. B. 1993. Insect Pollination of Crops. London, UK: Academic Press.
  • DeFoliart, G. R. 1999. Insects as food: Why the western attitude is important. Annual Review of Entomology 44:21-50.
  • Ghazoul, J. 2005. Buzziness as usual? Questioning the global pollination crisis. Trends Ecol. Evol. 20:367-373.
  • Grimaldi, D. and M. S. Engel. 2005. Evolution of the Insects. Cambridge University Press.
  • Klein, A.-M, B. E. Vaissière, J. H. Cane, I. Steffan-Dewenter, S. A. Cunningham, C. Kremen, and T. Tscharntke. 2007. Importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops. Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B 274(1608):303-313.
  • Menzel, P. and F. D'Aluisio. 1998. Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California.
  • Schowalter, T. D. 2006. Insect Ecology: An Ecosystem Approach. Second Edition. Academic Press, Burlington, Massachusetts.
  • Thompson, J. N. and D. Althoff. 1999. Insect diversity and the trophic complexity of communities. Pages 537-552 in Ecological Entomology. Second Edition. Carl B. Huffaker and A. P. Guitierrez, eds. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.
  • Waldbauer, G. 2003. What Good are Bugs? Insects in the Web of Life. Harvard University Press, Cambrdge, Massachusetts.
  • Wardle, D. A. 2002. Communities and Ecosystems: Linking the Aboveground and Belowground components. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey.
  • Weisser, W. W. and E. Siemann, eds. 2004. Insects and Ecosystem Function. Springer, New York.
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Risks

Many people view insects primarily as pests (Berenbaum 1996, Johnson & Triplehorn 2004). Indeed, insects cause tremendous damage to our agricultural crops either by feeding directly on cultivated plants (e. g., locusts, thrips, fruit flies, weevils, leaf beetles, moth larvae) or through the transmission of plant viruses, bacterial, and fungal diseases (e. g., aphids, whiteflies, leafhoppers). They also invade our homes (e. g., cockroaches, silverfish, house flies), infest stored products (e. g., clothes moths, flour moths, rice weevils, dermestid beetles), and destroy our buildings (e. g., termites, wood-boring beetles). Some insects parasitize humans and livestock (e. g., lice, bed bugs, bot flies), and some of these parasites are important vectors of disease (e. g., mosquitos, tsetse flies, black flies, kissing bugs, fleas). A few insects also pose a health threat because of their venom (e. g., bees and wasps, blister beetles, stinging caterpillars).

  • Berenbaum, M. 1996. Bugs in the System: Insects and Their Impact on Human Affairs. Addison Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, Massachusetts.
  • Johnson, N. F. and C. A. Triplehorn. 2004. Borror and DeLong's Introduction to the Study of Insects. 7th Edition. Brooks Cole, Belmont, California.
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