Insects! No matter where you are, you cannot miss them. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, making them highly intriguing for children to study.
Insects play a major role in our ecosystem, and the more your children read about them, the more they would be amused by the world of biology and ecology.
So, why delay? Quench the thirst of your child’s inquisitive mind with our article on insects for kids. We have also included a few cool facts about insects to pique children’s interest.
Characteristics Of Insects
The family of insects is diverse, with up to 900,000 different kinds (1). But despite their large number, most of these insects share the following similar characteristics (2) (3) (4) (5) (6).
- They have an exoskeleton, the hard external skeleton.
- Insects are cold-blooded organisms, meaning they cannot produce their own body heat.
- They have three distinct body parts, namely the head, abdomen, and thorax.
- Insects do not have a backbone. Hence, they belong to the category of invertebrates.
- They have six legs and a pair of antennae.
- Insects move in different manners. Most walk, a few fly, and others jump.
- Insects can be herbivores or carnivores.
- Most insects hatch from eggs and undergo metamorphosis to become adult insects. The metamorphosis can be of complete or incomplete types.
- In a few insects that undergo incomplete metamorphosis, the younger ones are similar to the adult insects in structure.
- Insects with complete metamorphosis undergo structural change in the entire body. The larvae that hatch from eggs become pupae, which in turn emerge into adult insects. The perfect example of this is the development of a caterpillar into a butterfly.
- Herbivore insects feed on plant parts and structures, such as the leaves, trunk, roots, and even nectar in flowers.
- A few insects, such as grasshoppers, are predators as they feed on other small insects.
- A few insects such as mosquitoes and flies are parasitic.
Types Of Insects
Insects can be classified into 29 orders. The most common orders of insects include the following (7).
1. The beetle order (Coleoptera)
Coleoptera is the largest insect family order with over 250,000 species. Common examples of this order include ground beetles, long-horned beetles, leaf beetles, lady beetles, and dung beetles. The prominent characteristic of this order is their hard, protective pair of front wings called elytra.
Beetles have piercing mouthparts that they use to chew plants. These insects undergo complete metamorphosis (8).
2. The mantid and cockroach order (Dictyoptera)
This is a superorder that includes two orders under it, namely Blattodea, which includes cockroaches and termites, and Mantodea, which includes mantises (9). A few insects under this order have wings.
The younger ones are identical to the adult insects and undergo incomplete metamorphosis. Their mouthparts are well adapted for biting. Mantises are considered beneficial to humans due to their ability to prey on other insects. On the other hand, cockroaches and termites are common pests.
3. True fly order (Diptera)
Flies including horse flies, hoverflies, crane flies, and mosquitoes fall under this category. These are characterized by a pair of flight wings, a pair of modified hindwings called halteres, and their large eyes.
Flies undergo complete metamorphosis. These insects have a mobile head with piercing mouthparts. A few flies, such as hoverflies, are pollinators, while mosquitoes and horse flies are parasites (10).
4. The mayfly order (Ephemeroptera)
This order includes aquatic insects and is characterized by their long triangle-shaped wings and long tails and are commonly observed during the spring. Mayflies are harmless to humans.
The adult forms, also called imago, have no mouthparts. Their primary role is mating. The young mayflies, also called nymphs, thrive in freshwaters and undergo incomplete metamorphosis (11).
5. The butterfly and moth order (Lepidoptera)
This order, termed Lepidoptera, includes the dazzling insects, namely butterflies, silkworms, and moths. These insects consist of a pair of antennae and their characteristic colorful, large wings. While moths are nocturnal, butterflies restrict their movements to the daytime.
The insects of the order Lepidoptera undergo complete metamorphosis. Larval forms, called caterpillars, have chewing mouthparts, while adult forms have sucking mouthparts and are pollinators (12).
6. The ant, bee, and wasp order (Hymenoptera)
Most insects under this order have a narrow arch between the thorax and the abdomen. Wasps, bees, and a few species of ants have connected hindwings and forewings, which is one of their characteristic features (13). Insects under this order also have venomous stings.
Bees and wasps are pollinators and have sucking mouthparts, while ants have chewing mouthparts and are sometimes used in biological pest control. The young ones of insects under this order undergo complete metamorphosis.
7. The dragonfly order (Odonata)
This order includes the dragonflies and damselflies. They are characterized by their large eyes, two pairs of long wings, and strong flight. The insects under Odonata are insectivores. The legs of these insects rarely assist them in walking but help them in catching prey.
As the larval forms, called naiads or nymphs, develop underwater, the adult forms are primarily found near aquatic areas. They are beneficial to humans as they prey on smaller insects, especially mosquitoes. The insects of this order undergo incomplete metamorphosis (14) (15).
8. The grasshoppers order (Orthoptera)
Most insects under the Orthoptera order have strong back legs, which aid them in jumping. This order includes crickets, grasshoppers, locusts, wetas, and katydids. These insects have bumps either on their wings or legs.
The younger insects, called nymphs, undergo incomplete metamorphosis and resemble adults. Most of the insects under this order have chewing mouthparts (16).
9. The stick and leaf insect order (Phasmatodea)
This order includes stick bugs or stick insects. They are also known as ghost insects due to their camouflaged appearance. These insects are primarily found in tropical and subtropical regions. Only the tropical adult forms may have wings.
The young ones of these insects undergo incomplete metamorphosis and are similar to adults in structure. These stick insects have chewing mouthparts (17).
29 Insect Facts For Kids
Insects are the most diverse group in the animal kingdom. Here are a few cool insect facts for you (18) (19) (20) (21) (22) (23) (24) (25) (26) (27) (28) (29) (30) (31) (32) (33) (34) (35) (36).
1. Nearly 80% of the life forms on Earth are insects.
2. Periodical cicadas stay in the ground for 13 to 17 years. These cicadas can produce sounds as loud as 90dBA, which is almost equal to the sound of a motorcycle.
3. Water striders can walk on the surface of the water. This is because they have tiny hairs on their legs that repel water and trap air.
4. It is only the male crickets and not the female crickets that chirp. They chirp by rubbing their front wings together.
5. A dragonfly has a 360-degree vision. They have about 28,000 lenses per compound eye, which is the highest among all living creatures.
6. Butterflies can taste too but with their feet. They have taste sensors on their feet.
7. Only female mosquitoes drink mammal blood. The nutrients in the blood help them produce eggs.
8. You will find ants, bees, and beetles on every continent except Antarctica.
9. A few insects, such as bees, termites, and ants, live together. And their habitats are called colonies.
10. A cockroach can run three miles an hour, hold its breath for up to 40 minutes, and live for a week without its head.
11. Dragonflies are expert predators. They can catch prey mid-air.
12. Grasshoppers existed on the Earth even during the Jurassic period.
13. The bull ants can grow up to 40mm and are know for jumping towards their intruders.
14. Ladybugs, also called ladybird beetles, are predators as they feed on other smaller herbivorous insects, aphids. They can eat nearly 5,000 insects in their lifetime.
15. The buzzing sound made by bees is due to their intense flapping of wings. A honeybee can flap its wings up to 230 times in a second.
16. A female lovebug, although tiny, can lay up to 350 eggs.
17. Ants communicate with each other by releasing a chemical called pheromone.
18. The water boatmen insects breathe from an air bubble held under their wings.
19. Insects battle too! The Giraffe weevil has a long neck, similar to that of a giraffe. It uses its neck to fight with the other weevils. They were discovered only in 2008.
20. A new study has proven that bees consume a few microbes that live in nectars. This classifies them as omnivores.
21. Some moths avoid their predators by mimicking other insects.
22. Some butterflies use their colorful wings to camouflage and protect themselves from predators.
23. Bed bugs can survive at a temperature as high as 120°F.
24. Stick insects or walking sticks can blend into the plant material to escape predators.
25. Ants are powerful insects. They can carry items up to fifty times their body weight.
26. Insects have lived on this earth for nearly 350 million years, meaning they have been here before humans!
27. The dust you see when you touch a butterfly is its scales. Although this is not fatal to a butterfly, it could still damage its wings when touched often.
28. Ladybugs protect themselves from predators by secreting a rancid fluid. Sometimes, they even pretend to be dead to save themselves from attacks.
29. A busy bee may fly up to 60 miles in one day while gathering food.
Teaching your children about insects is an ideal way to engage their curious minds. So, pack up their magnifying glasses and take them out on an insect hunt. Just observe them or use our article on insects for kids to study and identify their orders. Either way, it would be fun for you and your child.