Female Roseate Skimmer photographed by Michael Suttkus When you examine any insect up close, you find structures and designs unlike anything you've ever seen. Just pause a moment and dwell on the beautiful intricacy of the veins in the wings of the female Roseate Skimmer at the right. That photo, by the way, was taken by Michael Suttkus in his backyard in Florida.

head of Tiger Swallowtail, Pterourus glaucusPart of the beauty of insect construction lies in its practicality. If an insect's behavior is machine-like, so is its form. There's something in insect design reminiscent of the spirit of the master engineers who built early steam engines. Some of us could spend hours admiring all the dials, knobs, levers, cogs, belts, whistles, and bells on a steam- engine's control panel. It's the same way with insect parts. Every insect part gives the impression of having been designed by a creative urge gleefully, artfully, and lustily making up its rules as it went along.

Here are the main parts of an insect: 4 insect heads

horsefly compound eye surface showing ommatidia


*Hymenoptera also has "chewing-sucking" species

We have a special page showing several kinds of  insect mouth parts.

Wood Cockroach

  • Legs are important in insect identification, especially the tarsus part, which more or less corresponds to a jointed foot. As with antenna segments, it's often important to notice how many segments comprise the tarsus. Tarsi on members of the order Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) consist of 3 segments, while those in the order Isoptera (termites) possess 4 segments, and flies in the order Diptera have 5.  At the left this Wood Cockroach (Orthoptera) has 5-jointed tarsi.
  • wing venation of housefly & little houseflyWings are the very books in which the identities of many insect groups are written. Good insect field guides include drawings such as those to the right, showing how the wings' individual veins connect with one another. Each open space framed within the veins is known as a "cell." And each vein and each cell has it own name. In the drawing at the right it's easy to find the difference between the Common House Fly of the genus Musca, or the Little House Fly of the genus Fannia.
  • Black Field Cricket (Teleogryllus commodus), photo by Bea Laporte
    Black Field Cricket, Teleogryllus commodus, photo & ID by Bea Laporte of Ontario

    To get a better feeling right now for insect structure and design, you might enjoy browsing Iowa State's bug-site called the Insect Image Gallery, where you can see lots of insect types.