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Insects (from Latin insectum) are hexapod invertebrates of the class Insecta. They are the largest group within the arthropod phylum. Insects have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body (head, thorax and abdomen), three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and a pair of antennae. Their blood is not totally contained in vessels; some circulates in an open haemocoel. Insects are the most diverse group of animals, with more than a million described species; they represent more than half of all animal species.
Temporal range: Carboniferous–Present
|Insects, such as this scorpionfly, have a three-part body: head with large compound eyes and antennae, a thorax with 3 pairs of legs and often wings, and a segmented abdomen.|
Nearly all insects hatch from eggs. Insect growth is constrained by the inelastic exoskeleton, so development involves a series of molts. The immature stages often differ from the adults in structure, habit and habitat. Groups that undergo four-stage metamorphosis often have a nearly immobile pupa. Insects that undergo three-stage metamorphosis lack a pupa, developing through a series of increasingly adult-like nymphal stages. The higher level relationship of the insects is unclear. Fossilized insects of enormous size have been found from the Paleozoic Era, including giant dragonflies with wingspans of 55 to 70 cm (22 to 28 in). The most diverse insect groups appear to have coevolved with flowering plants.
Adult insects typically move about by walking and flying; some can swim. Insects are the only invertebrates that can achieve sustained powered flight; insect flight evolved just once. Many insects spend part of their lives under water; their larvae have gills, while some have aquatic adults adapted to swimming. Some species, such as water striders, can walk on the surface of water. Insects are mostly solitary, but some, such as bees, ants and termites, are social and live in large, well-organized colonies. Others, such as earwigs, provide maternal care, guarding their eggs and young. Insects can communicate with each other in a variety of ways. Male moths can sense the pheromones of female moths over great distances. Other species communicate with sounds: crickets stridulate, or rub their wings together, to attract a mate and repel other males. Lampyrid beetles communicate with light.
Humans regard many insects as pests, especially those that damage crops, and attempt to control them using insecticides and other techniques. Others are parasitic, and may act as vectors of diseases. Insect pollinators are essential to the reproduction of many flowering plants and so to their ecosystems. Many insects are ecologically beneficial as predators of pest insects, while a few provide direct economic benefit. Two species in particular are economically important and were domesticated many centuries ago: silkworms for silk and honey bees for honey. Insects are consumed as food in 80% of the world's nations, by people in roughly 3000 ethnic groups. Human activities are having serious effects on insect biodiversity.
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