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Insects: Top 10 Questions

October 2015

Thanks to William Clark, Director, Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History, College of Idaho; and Dr. Alan Gillogly, Entomology Curator and Beetle Specialist, Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History, College of for the answers.

1: What type of bug is the most common?

If you are considering the number of species, the most common type of bug is the group of beetles called coleopteran. There are about 500,000 beetle species to date. If you are looking at just shear numbers, it would be the ants. There are about 12,000 species of ants and many have huge nests numbering in the millions or hundreds of millions. (From Hans at Snake River Montessori School in Idaho Falls)

2: How big is the biggest bug in the world?

First we have to decide how we measure big. If you use weight as big, the biggest insect would probably be the weta. The weta is an insect related to crickets, grasshoppers, and katydids. The weta can weigh up to 71 grams. The elephant beetle and the goliath beetle may weigh just about as much as a weta. If we measure by the longest insect, it would probably be a species of walking stick that can be as long as 33 centimeters. (From Kazia at Taylor's Crossing Public Charter School in Idaho Falls)

3: What is an exoskeleton?

The exoskeleton is the hard outer covering of the insect. It acts like a skeleton and serves the same purpose as the internal skeleton of humans. It protects the insect and allows it to do its various functions. It's even waterproof. (From Cooper at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

4: Do all insects fly?

Not all insects can fly. Most adult insects have wings and can fly, but some of them have reduced wings and those wings are not strong enough to actually lift the insect. There are others that have completely lost their wings. The only immature insect that we know of that can fly is the mayfly. The nymphs of mayflies live in water and when a nymph molts, it molts into a sub-adult stage, which only lasts for a few minutes. A sub-adult flies to a rock or branch and then molts again into the full adult stage. (From Colin at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

5: How long do insects live?

It varies. Most insects don't live over one year. Some insects, like the mayfly, only live for a few hours once they emerge from the immature stages. The seventeen year cicada is a good example of an insect with a long life. The nymphs live in the ground for roughly 17 years. Then when the adult emerges, they will live for only a few weeks. There are some beetle larvae that live in wood that may exceed 35-50 years in lifespan, and another outlier is the African termite queen that may live up to 66 years. (From Jada at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

6: What does the thorax do on an insect?

The thorax is the primary segment for the insect's operations, like flying, walking, jumping and running. The legs and the wings are attached to the thorax, and the muscles that run those appendages are attached to the inside of the exoskeleton. (From Ava at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

7: What is chitin?

The exoskeleton of insects is made of chitin. It can be very, very hard or it can be soft and flexible. It's about as strong as the keratin that makes up the fingernails of humans. (From Curtis at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

8: Is it true that a cockroach can live for seven days without its head?

It wouldn't function in its normal state or do the things that the insect would do with its head, but it can live because the blood continues to circulate and it lives off of fat deposits that it has stored. The insect still has its nervous tissue inside, so that even without its head, the nervous tissue helps keep some of the basic body functions going. (From Benjamin at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

9: Why aren't spiders a part of the insect family?

Spiders and insects are very different. Spiders are essentially divided into two parts: a cephalothorax and an abdomen. Insects are divided into three parts: the head, thorax and abdomen. Normally insects will have six legs, and spiders have eight legs. The body part separation is probably the main difference. (From Adrianna at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

10: Why do mosquitoes suck blood?

Only the female mosquitoes suck blood. The males have mouth parts but they feed on sweet things like nectar or fruit juices. For the females, blood is needed to nourish their eggs. (From Christopher at Sherman Elementary School in Nampa)


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