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Interactive Insect Book for Kids

 

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Click below to learn more about the insect groups

       
       

Beetles

Cicadas

Crickets

Flies

       
       

Grasshoppers

Bees

Dragonflies

Butterflies

       
       

Mantids

Mosquitoes

Ants

Fireflies

 

Insects!

 

Insects are a large, diverse group of organisms. To date, over a million different kinds of insects have been described, more than all other kinds of organisms combined. Scientists believe as many as ten million kinds of insects actually exist, most of which are yet to be discovered.

Insects are characterized by the presence of an exoskeleton, a hard cover made of chitin that is located outside the body. All insects have three major body parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. The thorax of each insect holds six legs. In some insects, the thorax is the location of one or two pairs of wings. Insects have fascinating life cycles, all of which begin as eggs. Different insects go through different life cycles, and many go through a partial or total metamorphosis.

 

Beetles

 

Beetles comprise the largest order of insects. There are over 350,000 different kinds of beetles and 40 percent of all insects are beetles. Many have not yet been discovered. Beetles live in all continents except Antarctica. They can be found in virtually every habitat. Some beetles even live in water. Beetles can be tiny or surprisingly large. The Goliath Beetle is the size of a sparrow and weighs up to four ounces!

Beetles throughout the world feed on a wide variety of things including plants, fungi, decomposing matter, invertebrates, and even small birds and mammals. Many beetles are serious agricultural pests and cause widespread damage to crops. For example, the Boll Weevil was responsible for the near destruction of the cotton crop in the southern United States in the early 1900’s, which cost cotton farmers an estimated 13 billion dollars. Other beetles, such as the Ladybug, eat insects that damage crops.

Anatomy:  Click here to see an interactive beetle!

 

Cicadas

 

The cicada is a large, dark insect with four transparent wings and large eyes. There are over 2,500 different kinds of cicadas in the world, many of which remain unclassified. Cicadas are sometimes confused with locusts, which are actually a kind of grasshopper. Despite their large size and imposing appearance, cicadas are absolutely harmless to people. In fact, cicadas are a popular delicacy on many parts of the world. The word "cicada" means "tree cricket" in Latin.  Most cicadas are found in temperate or tropical regions and can sometimes grow to two inches  in length. Cicadas in Malaysia have actually measured over six inches in length! Cicadas are among the loudest of all insects.  Unlike crickets, cicadas produce noise from vibrating rib-like structures in their hollow abdomens. When thousands of male cicadas vibrate these structures at the same time, the noise produced can be so loud that it is painful to human ears!

In the summer of 2004, the "Brood X" cicadas, invaded the Midwest and eastern portions of the United States. "Brood X" cicadas have the longest life cycle of any insect (17 years) and spend the vast majority of their lives feeding on the juices of plant roots underground. During the invasion, millions upon millions of cicadas emerged from underground to breed. The collective buzzing of cicadas was unbelievably loud, and the crunching of shed exoskeletons beneath the feet of people and pets was common. While cicadas are harmless to people, they lay their eggs on the ends of tree branches. This may cause serious damage to the tree. "Brood X" cicadas will return in 2021.

 

Crickets!

 
 
Crickets are small jumping insects. Many classrooms in the United States and Europe raise crickets during their insect units. Crickets live in many habitats, but prefer to live in dark, shady places such as under rocks or logs in meadows, fields, and forests. Many crickets also live in homes, restaurants, and buildings where they can live in warmth all year. Crickets are usually nocturnal. It is not unusual to hear the "chirping" of male crickets during the night or in the early morning. Chirping is accomplished by the male cricket rubbing his wings together. The male chirps in the hopes of finding a mate and as a warning to other males to stay out of his territory. The process is known as "stirdulation". Females do not chirp. Crickets are omnivorous and will eat plant material, fungi, and decaying animals. Crickets being raised in the classroom will readily eat fish food.
 

Flies

 

Everybody knows the annoying house fly. In your house, on your food, and buzzing around your ear when you’re trying to sleep, the house fly is just about everywhere. Flies are told from other flying insects by their single pair of wings and includes flies, mosquitoes, gnats, and midges. Other kinds of flying insects have two pairs of wings.  The diet of the fly is varied. Some flies are parasitic and obtain nourishment from the bodies of other organisms. Some, such as the bot fly, even live inside other organisms! Others feed on decaying organic matter. House flies use their saliva to liquefy matter before eating it.

The life-cycle of a fly is short but productive. Adult female flies lay about 120-150 eggs in manure or other warm, decaying matter. The eggs hatch worm-like maggots about 12 hours after they are deposited. The maggots grow to be nearly a half-inch long and burrow into the ground to pupate. In five or six days, and adult fly will emerge. In colder months, it may take a month for the fly to emerge. Flies are one of the world’s most prolific carriers of disease.  Flies have been known to transmit anthrax, cholera and dysentery.

 

Grasshoppers

 

Grasshoppers are commonly found in yards, fields, farms, and prairies. Grasshoppers are insects that can fly, walk, and hop. They come in all sorts of colors and sizes, although most are green, gray, or brown. Grasshoppers that live in the southern United States may reach lengths of 4 inches long! Grasshoppers can be fun to catch for both people and animals and are food for a variety of animals including birds, reptiles, and spiders. In some parts of the world, they are also eaten by people! Scientists believe there are about 11,000 different species of grasshoppers in existence.

Grasshoppers can be fairly harmful to crops. Occasionally, swarms of millions of grasshoppers will descend upon the Great Plains region. Such swarms may darken the skies with their sheer numbers and devastate crops.

 

Dragonflies

 

 The colorful dragonfly is an insect that  is mostly commonly found near water. It is not unusual to see hundreds of different colored dragonflies hovering near the surface or chasing each other around a pond or a stream.  Dragonflies often alight on branches, or fences revealing their interesting colors.  Dragonflies can hover in mid-air, and eat other insects such as bees, flies, and midges by snatching them out of the air.  They are amazing fliers and are regarded as the world’s fastest insects, able to reach speeds of 35 miles per hour. Some dragonflies can travel dozens of miles in a single day. While today’s dragonflies can be fairly large (the largest has a wingspan of about 7.5 inches), ancient dragonflies were huge and had wingspans that measured up to 29 inches!

The dragonfly’s life cycle begins in the water. Females lay their eggs in vegetation near the water or on the surface of the water. Most of the dragonfly’s life is spent in the nymph (larva) phase, where it uses special gill-like structures to breathe underwater. Although most adult dragonflies live only a couple of weeks, some manage to survive for up to four months.

Dragonflies are actually valuable  predators of insects pests and are sometimes called "mosquito hawks". Recent studies have shown that dragonflies can trick their prey by appearing to remain still when they are actually flying toward it.  The phenomenon is known as "motion camouflage".
     

 

Butterflies

 
Monarch Butterflies
 

The fall monarch butterfly migration is one of the most anticipated natural events in the world. Every year, millions of monarch butterflies fly from the United States and Canada all the way to Mexico. In Mexico they congregate in huge flocks and cover the forests with their bright colors.  

The beautiful monarch butterfly is a perfect example of how adaptations work in the wild. The monarch’s adaptation happens to be its bright colors. Its bright colors warn other animals that it tastes bad! When an animal such as a blue jay eats a monarch butterfly, it will get very sick and throw up. In the future, it will know never to eat an insect that looks like a monarch. Monarch butterflies obtain their poisonous taste from the milkweed plant, which if often eats.  Monarchs sip nectar from many different types of plants and flowers through the proboscis –  a long flexible tongue that uncoils and recoils.  
  

 

Bees

 
 

Honeybees are fascinating insects with a fascinating social structure. Families of related bees live together in hives. Within the hives, there are three types of bees: 1.) The Queen – who lays the eggs and is the center of the hive 2.) The Workers – female bees who gather food, make honey, build the honeycomb, tend to the eggs, and guard the hive. 3.) The drones – males who mate with the queen. Females lay the eggs in a cell (compartment) of the wax honeycomb. The eggs hatch into  worm-like larva. The larva eventually pupate into bees.

Only female worker bees sting. The stinger itself is a fascinating organ that literally has a brain of its own. When the bee stings a mammal, the stinger continues to release venom into the victim for several minutes after deployment. It also has barbs, which grind their way into the victim’s skin, causing intense pain. When the bee stings a mammal, the stinger organ tears from the body and the bee normally dies within a few minutes. The bee, however, can sting other bees and insects repeatedly.

Bees are extremely important to our natural world. The nectar they eat gets turned into honey. As the bee goes from flower to flower collecting nectar, pollen collects on the bees. The pollen is then rubbed off on other flowers which results in pollination (or the fertilization of flowers).
 

 

Praying Mantis

 
Praying Mantis
 

The praying mantis is among the most striking insects found in North America. It is much larger than most insects, and may be up to six inches in length. The praying mantis is a voracious predator and eats just about any other live insect around. For this reason, they are among the most useful of all insects, as they consume great numbers of insect pests. Larger praying mantises can even devour hummingbirds and small lizards. Bats and birds,
however, often prey upon the praying mantis. At rest, the praying mantis holds it front forelegs up and close together in a manner that looks like its praying – hence, the name.

The praying mantis is usually green or brown and relies upon camouflage to hide from predators. Like all insects, mantids have a head, thorax, and abdomen, six jointed legs, two antennae, and a hard exoskeleton. The praying mantis has a particularly large set of compound eyes and an elongated protothorax that looks like a  neck. The praying mantis is unusual among insects in that it can rotate its head nearly 360 degrees.
degrees.

 

Mosquitoes

 

The Mosquito, closely related to the fly, is one of the world’s most prolific carries of disease. It is part of a group of organisms known as vectors – those which carry disease but do not cause the disease.  Mosquitoes, which carry malaria, yellow fever, and dengue among others, have killed millions of people throughout history, and continue to cause death and suffering today.
  There are over 2,500 types of mosquitoes throughout the world. North America is home to over 200 species of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes come in many different sizes. Adult mosquitoes have long, delicate legs, a long proboscis, and a pair of transparent wings. Most are less than one centimeter in length. Under a microscope, the mosquito body looks covered in scales.

Female mosquitoes survive by sucking the blood of animals and humans. Mosquitoes also suck nectar from flowers. Interestingly enough, mosquitoes are attracted to humans by the carbon dioxide we exhale, from body heat, and from bacteria that live on our skin. Mosquitoes can detect exhaled carbon dioxide from as far away as 75 feet. Personal body chemistry may determine why some people seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Different mosquitoes target different parts of the body. Some may buzz around your eyes and ears, while others target areas behind your elbows or knees.

 

Ants

 

Closely related to bees and wasps, there are over 12,000 species of ants worldwide. Most species of ants are eusocial (specialized groups of animals in which sterile, non-reproductive individuals protect the colony) and some colonies may contain millions of individual ants.  Ants have colonized most of the terrestrial world with the exception of Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, and some Pacific islands.
   There are many interesting kinds of ants. The Honey pot Ant, found in Australia, has special members of the colony that are gorged with honey until their abdomens swell enormously. Other ants in the colony feed off these ants. Sometimes, raiding colonies of foreign ants will try to steal the Honey pot Ant for its nutritional value. Honey pot Ants are often eaten by people.

The Leafcutter Ant, found in Central and South America, has evolved a special system that nourishes the entire colony. These ants cultivate a special kind of fungus that grows only within their colonies.  The ants feed on special structures called gongylidia produced by the fungus. The fungus is fed by thousands upon thousands of leaf fragments which are brought inside the colony by the ants. Furthermore, the ants produce a bacteria which prevents the fungus from being overtaken by deadly kinds of molds.

Army Ants are reddish-colored ants that bite and sting. Colonies can easily kill small mammals and can cause intense pain, blistering, and infections to unlucky humans who come into contact with them.  Army Ants are not native to the United States, but were accidentally introduced in the early 1900’s. Today, these ants cause billions of dollars in damage every year.

 

Fireflies

 
 

The firefly is actually a beetle and not a fly at all. Fireflies can grow to 9 centimeters in length and are easily identified by their flat bodies, blackish backs, large eyes, and short antennae. Of course, fireflies are most readily identified by their bioluminescent abdominal region. Both adults and larva are capable of glowing. Even firefly eggs glow!

Fireflies produce light by initiating a chemical reaction of Luciferin, Luciferase and Oxygen. Amazingly enough, the firefly "light" is extremely efficient – about ten times more energy efficient than a light bulb. Most scientists believe fireflies light up to advertise to predators that they taste bad. When fireflies are disturbed, the frequency and intensity of their glow increases. Fireflies also glow as a means of communication between males and females. Scientists believe that certain aspects of a male’s flashing pattern (such as frequency of flashing) are more attractive to female fireflies and increase his chance of mating.