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Various insects, entomology display
Insects come in all different shapes and sizes

What Are Insects?

Insects are invertebrate bugs, or arthropods, belonging to the class Insecta. Insects are the most diverse group of animals on Earth, with over a million known species. They play important roles in ecosystems as pollinators, decomposers, and as a food source for other animals.

Insects undergo a process called metamorphosis, where they transform from egg to larva to pupa, and finally to an adult form. They have specialized mouthparts for feeding on different types of food, such as nectar, leaves, or other insects. Insects can be found in almost every habitat on Earth, from forests and deserts to rivers and even underground.

How Can You Identify an Insect?

Insects have a few special characteristics that make them different from other bugs, such as spiders:

  • Three main body parts: Insects have a head, thorax, and abdomen. The head is like their control center, where they have eyes and antennae to see and sense the world around them. The thorax is where their legs and wings are attached, allowing them to move and fly. The abdomen is like their belly, where they have organs for digestion and reproduction.
  • Six legs: Insects have six legs that help them walk, crawl, and jump. These legs are like their little tools for getting around. They have special joints that let them bend and move in different directions, making insects very agile and fast.
  • Two antennae: All insects have two antennae on their heads. Think of them as insect antennas for detecting things. These antennae can sense smells, vibrations, and even communicate with other insects. It's like having a special sense to help them explore and find food.
  • Wings: Many insects have wings, which allow them to fly and reach new places. Wings are like their superpower! They come in different shapes and sizes, like little flying machines. Wings help insects find food, escape from danger, and even find mates.
  • Exoskeleton: Insects have a hard outer covering called an exoskeleton. It's like a strong suit of armor that protects their bodies. This exoskeleton is made of a material called chitin, which is tough but lightweight. As insects grow, they shed their old exoskeleton and make a new one to fit their bigger bodies.
  • Eyes: Most insects have two pairs of eyes. They have simple eyes that can sense light and darkness, like having a night vision mode. In addition, some insects have compound eyes. These eyes are like having lots of tiny cameras. Each little part can see a small piece of the world, and when they all work together, insects can see movement really well.

Top Facts About Insect for Kids

  • 1. Bees communicate with each other by performing the "waggle dance."

    When honeybees find a great source of nectar or pollen, they return to the hive and perform a dance known as the "waggle dance." The honeybee moves in a figure-eight pattern while vibrating its abdomen. The direction and duration of the dance communicate important information about the location of the food source to other worker bees. (It also helps them get their groove on).

  • 2. Some insects can produce their own light.

    Fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, are famous for their ability to light up the night sky. Scientists call this bioluminescence, or the ability of living things to create their own light. Certain algae and mushrooms also share this unique ability.

    Fireflies have organs called photic organs located on their abdomen. When oxygen (O2) mixes with the chemicals inside these organs, it creates a chemical reaction that produces light without generating heat. The light produced by fireflies can help them attract mates or warn predators to stay away, and each firefly species has its own unique pattern of light flashes.

  • 3. Certain insects can change their color, just like chameleons.

    The walking stick insect is a master of disguise. They have special cells called chromatophores in their bodies. These cells contain pigments that can expand or contract, causing the insects to change color. By adjusting the size of these pigment cells, walking sticks can mimic the colors of leaves, branches, or even flowers.

  • 4. There's a type of beetle that can create mini explosions to scare predators.

    Bombardier beetles have special glands inside their abdomens that produce a mixture of chemicals. When they sense danger, they release these chemicals in a rapid reaction. The mixture gets extremely hot, reaching temperatures close to boiling, and it creates a loud popping sound and a burst of noxious gas. This explosion scares away predators like spiders, frogs, and even other insects.

    What makes this defense mechanism even more incredible is that bombardier beetles can aim their chemical blasts with incredible accuracy. They can turn their bodies and shoot the chemicals in any direction, giving them a great advantage in escaping from danger.

  • 5. Some insects can walk on water.

    Water striders are tiny insects with long, slender legs that allow them to glide effortlessly on the surface of ponds, lakes, and even calm streams. What's even more amazing is that they can perform this feat because of something called surface tension.

    Surface tension is like an invisible skin on the water's surface that makes it act like a trampoline. The water strider's legs are designed in a special way with tiny hairs that help distribute their weight and prevent them from breaking the surface tension. This enables them to stay afloat and walk on the water without sinking.

  • 6. Bees have been shown to understand basic numbers, even zero.

    In a 2019 study published in the scientific journal Science Advances, researchers tested whether bees could tell apart even and odd numbers. The bees learned to expect a sweet reward or a bitter-tasting punishment with the number of shapes on cards.

    Surprisingly, the bees became quite good at picking even or odd numbers with 80% accuracy. They were even able to recognize numbers outside of their training set, although not as accurately. While scientists aren't exactly sure how the bees accomplished this, they suspect the bees might be counting or grouping the shapes on the cards or looking for patterns.