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A Guide to the Twenty Nine Insect Orders

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Familiarity with the twenty-nine insect orders is the key to identifying and understanding insects. In this introduction, I have described the insect orders beginning with the most primitive wingless insects, and ending with the insect groups that have undergone the greatest evolutionary change. Most insect order names end in ptera, which comes from the Greek word pteron, meaning wing.

1. Order Thysanura

Photo: © Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org
The silverfish and firebrats are found in the order Thysanura. They are wingless insects often found in people's attics, and have a lifespan of several years. There are about 600 species worldwide.

2. Order Diplura

Diplurans are the most primitive insect species, with no eyes or wings. They have the unusual ability among insects to regenerate body parts. There are over 400 members of the order Diplura in the world.

3. Order Protura

Another very primitive group, the proturans have no eyes, no antennae, and no wings. They are uncommon, with perhaps less than 100 species known.

4. Order Collembola

Photo: © Flickr user Neil Phillips
The order Collembola includes the springtails, primitive insects without wings. There are approximately 2,000 species of Collembola worldwide.

5. Order Ephemeroptera

Photo: © Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
The mayflies of order Ephemeroptera are short-lived, and undergo incomplete metamorphosis. The larvae are aquatic, feeding on algae and other plant life. Entomologists have described about 2,100 species worldwide.

6. Order Odonata

Photo: © Susan Ellis, Bugwood.org
The order Odonata includes dragonflies and damselflies, which undergo incomplete metamorphosis. They are predators of other insects, even in their immature stage. There are about 5,000 species in the order Odonata.

7. Order Plecoptera

Photo: © Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, United States
The stoneflies of order Plecoptera are aquatic and undergo incomplete metamorphosis. The nymphs live under rocks in well flowing streams. Adults are usually seen on the ground along stream and river banks. There are roughly 3,000 species in this group.

8. Order Grylloblatodea

Sometimes referred to as "living fossils," the insects of the order Grylloblatodea have changed little from their ancient ancestors. This order is the smallest of all the insect orders, with perhaps only 25 known species living today. Grylloblatodea live at elevations above 1500 ft., and are commonly named ice bugs or rock crawlers.

9. Order Orthoptera

Photo: © Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, United States
These are familiar insects - grasshoppers, locusts, katydids, and crickets - and one of the largest orders of herbivorous insects. Many species in the order Orthoptera can produce and detect sounds. Approximately 20,000 species exist in this group.

10. Order Phasmida

Photo: © Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
The order Phasmida are masters of camouflage - the stick and leaf insects. They undergo incomplete metamorphosis, and feed on leaves. There are some 3,000 insects in this group, but only a small fraction of this number are leaf insects. Stick insects are the longest insects in the world.
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