Way More Than You Wanted To Know About Insects

Can insects smell? Yes, with their antenna (!) full of sensilla (pores that collect “smells” ((chemicals))).

What does the word insect mean?  Insect is from the Latin Insectum, which means “in sections” (divided).

How do fireflies light up? They emit a chemical called Luceferan (or one called Luciferase) that produces light when it reacts with oxygen in the air.  The light is called bioluminescence, and it does not produce heat.

What is the smallest insect?  The smallest known  insect is the fairy fly (which is really from the wasp family), which is only 0.21 millimeters long.  It’s a parasite of other insects’ eggs.

Do insects sleep?  Insects don’t have eyelids, so they can’t close their eyes to sleep like we can.  But they do go through periods of deep rest called torpor.  One insect suspends itself by its jaw in torpor; another insect enters and exits torpor by freezing and thawing out.

Do insects get scared?  Not like we do–insects don’t feel emotion (happiness, sadness, fear).  They seem like they are scared of us because they run away from us…but that is only a reaction to our size and movement for their own protection.  Also, insects don’t feel pain the way we do, because they don’t have the pain neuroreceptors we have.

How do insects move their wings?  Insect wings are made of chitin (same as their exoskeleton) and are very small compared to their body size, so they have to move very fast to make the insect fly.  Insects have muscles inside their thorax to move their wings–one contracts to move the wing up, the other contracts to bring the wing back down.  Plus, they are able to change the position (angle) of their wing during the upstroke to keep from being pushed right back down to where they started.

How does a caterpillar spin a cocoon?  Caterpillars make silk just like spiders.  They find a good leaf to hang from, then they either wrap themselves in two silk-covered leaves OR weave a shell entirely of silk.  A caterpillar in a cocoon is called a chrysalis; the chrysalis stage usually lasts around 12 days.

What’s the difference between spiders and insects?  Insects have 6 jointed legs; spiders have 8.  Insects have three body sections (head, thorax, abdomen); spiders have two (cephalothorax, abdomen).  Insects have at minimum 2 compound eyes; spiders only have simple eyes.

(A few of the many questions my 3-5th graders have about insects.  Pretty good questions, huh?  I held a press conference in class yesterday to give them their long awaited answers.)


  1. #1 by Maria on October 23, 2010 - 12:23 am

    It’s a little late, but I like them! One question you may consider asking is “Are insects tasty?” The Iowa State entomology dept. had some recipes for insects. Nothing like a chocolate covered ant! (Actually to my shame, I never had one.)

    • #2 by Cristy on October 23, 2010 - 11:16 am

      You may find this hard to fathom, but at our Bug Feast I had several deep fat fried meal worms. They tasted a little like french fries. And Chocolate Chip Cookie Crickets. Yum, yum. http://www.manataka.org/page160.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: