Are Insects Animals? - Earthpedia -
Praying mantis insect, Pseudocreobotra wahlbergii

Are Insects Animals?

The long, spindly appendages and bulging eyes of a praying mantis looks about as far from a human as you can imagine. Despite their alien appearance, insects are animals, just like you and me.

Insects share the kingdom Animalia with all animals on earth. However, the impression that insects are so very different from us is well founded. Insects diverged from mammals and other animals long ago. Scientists estimate that the last common ancestor of humans and insects lived over 500 million years ago.

What is Phylogeny?

Phylogenetic tree of life
Phylogenetic tree of life

Phylogeny, the study of the evolutionary history and relationships among different species or groups of organisms. It is a fascinating and essential aspect of biology. Phylogeny allows us to unravel the complex tapestry of life on Earth, tracing the myriad connections between all living and extinct species. Through phylogenetic analysis, scientists gain insights into the origins, diversification, and interrelationships of species. It also helps identify broader patterns of biological evolution.

The evolutionary relationships between organisms are often represented as branching diagrams called phylogenetic trees or cladograms. These diagrams depict the inferred relationships based on shared characteristics and genetic information. Each branching point (or node) represents a common ancestor. The tips of the branches represent the species or groups being studied. The length of the branches may indicate the degree of evolutionary change or divergence over time.

Applications and Implications of Phylogeny

Phylogenetic analysis involves comparing various aspects of organisms. These include morphological features (body structure, organs, or other physical traits), molecular data (DNA or protein sequences), and behavioral traits. By analyzing these data, scientists can identify similarities and differences among species and make inferences about their evolutionary relationships.

It has wide-ranging applications in various fields of biology, such as taxonomy, ecology, and conservation biology. For example, understanding the evolutionary relationships between species can help researchers classify organisms more accurately. This also helps shed light on the origins of biological diversity, and identify key traits that have evolved in response to specific environmental pressures.

Phylogeny is a powerful tool for understanding the complex relationships between organisms and the history of life on Earth. By tracing the branches of the tree of life, scientists can gain insights into the evolutionary processes that have shaped the myriad species that inhabit our planet. In turn, this knowledge can inform our approach to preserving biodiversity, combating disease, and uncovering the secrets of the natural world.

What are Arthropods?

A Dovetail butterfly flying near some yellow daisys.
Dovetail Butterfly

Arthropods are a large and diverse group of invertebrate animals belonging to the phylum Arthropoda. They are characterized by having exoskeletons made of chitin, segmented bodies, and jointed appendages (legs, antennae, and other specialized structures).

The name “arthropod” comes from the Greek words “arthron” (joint) and “podos” (foot), reflecting their jointed appendages. This phylum also includes millipedes, scorpions, spiders and crabs.

Arthropods are the most abundant and diverse group of animals on Earth. There are more than a million described species, representing around 80% of all known animal species. This phylum can be divided into several subgroups, including:

Insects (class Insecta)

The largest and most diverse group of arthropods, insects include species such as ants, beetles, butterflies, and bees. They typically have three main body segments (head, thorax, and abdomen), six legs, and one or two pairs of wings (in most but not all species).

Arachnids (class Arachnida)

This group includes spiders, scorpions, ticks, and mites. Arachnids typically have two main body segments (cephalothorax and abdomen) and four pairs of legs. Unlike insects, they do not possess wings or antennae.

Crustaceans (subphylum Crustacea)

Crustaceans are primarily aquatic arthropods, including species such as crabs, lobsters, shrimp, and barnacles. They have two main body segments (cephalothorax and abdomen) and exhibit a wide variety of appendages. These appendages are adapted for feeding, locomotion, and sensory functions.

Myriapods (subphylum Myriapoda)

This group includes centipedes and millipedes. Myriapods have elongated, segmented bodies with numerous legs, with each body segment typically bearing one or two pairs of legs.

Arthropods play essential roles in ecosystems worldwide, serving as pollinators, decomposers, and food sources for other animals. They also have economic and medical importance, with some species serving as agricultural pests or vectors for diseases.

What is an Insect?

A praying mantis on a orange flower.
Praying Mantis

An insect is a type of invertebrate animal that belongs to the class Insecta within the phylum Arthropoda. Insects are the most diverse and numerous group of animals on Earth, with over a million described species. These species account for more than half of all known living organisms. They can be found in nearly every habitat, from terrestrial to aquatic environments and from polar to tropical regions.

Insects share several common characteristics that distinguish them from other arthropods:

Body segmentation

The insect body is typically divided into three main segments – the head, thorax, and abdomen. The head contains sensory organs (eyes, antennae) and mouthparts adapted for feeding. The thorax bears three pairs of legs and, in most cases, one or two pairs of wing. The abdomen houses the digestive, reproductive, and other internal organs.


Like all arthropods, insects possess an exoskeleton made of chitin, a tough and flexible material that provides structural support, protection, and a barrier against water loss.

Jointed appendages

Insects have six jointed legs, with each leg consisting of several segments connected by flexible joints. These legs allow for a wide range of movement. They are often specialized for different functions, such as walking, jumping, or grasping.

Wings (in most species)

Many insects have one or two pairs of wings, which enable them to fly. However, some insects are wingless or have reduced wings that are not used for flight.


Most insects undergo a process called metamorphosis during their development, where they transition through different life stages with distinct forms and functions. Insects can have either complete metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa, and adult) or incomplete metamorphosis (egg, nymph, and adult).

Insects play crucial roles in ecosystems as pollinators, decomposers, and food sources for other animals. They can also have significant impacts on human activities, with some species serving as pests in agriculture and forestry, or as vectors for diseases.

Conversely, other insects are beneficial to humans, such as honeybees that produce honey and pollinate crops, or ladybugs that help control pest populations.

Delicate Balance: Human Impact on Insect Populations

A bumble bee flying over a flower with a blurry background.
Bumble Bee

Insects, the most diverse and numerous group of animals on Earth, play critical roles in ecosystems as pollinators, decomposers, and food sources for other organisms. However, human activities have significantly impacted insect populations worldwide, leading to declines in many species and disruptions in ecological balance. This section explores the various ways in which human actions have influenced insect populations and the potential consequences for ecosystems and human well-being.

Habitat Loss and Fragmentation

One of the primary ways humans have impacted insect populations is through habitat loss and fragmentation, often resulting from urbanization, agriculture, and deforestation. As natural habitats are destroyed or divided into smaller, isolated patches, insect populations may decline due to the reduction in available resources, changes in microclimates, and diminished genetic diversity.

Habitat loss can also disrupt the complex relationships between insects and other organisms, such as plants and their pollinators or predators and their prey.

Chemical Pollution

The widespread use of pesticides in agriculture has had significant effects on insect populations. While pesticides can help control agricultural pests and protect crop yields, they can also harm non-target insect species, including beneficial pollinators like bees and natural predators of pests.

Insecticides can accumulate in the environment, resulting in long-term exposure for insects, which can lead to population declines, reduced biodiversity, and disruptions in food chains.

Additionally, other forms of chemical pollution, such as industrial waste or vehicle emissions, can impact insect populations by contaminating their habitats, food sources, or breeding sites.

Climate Change

Climate change, driven by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, has wide-ranging effects on ecosystems, including alterations in temperature, precipitation, and the frequency of extreme weather events.

These changes can affect insect populations by altering their habitat conditions, range distributions, life cycles, and interactions with other species. For example, rising temperatures may cause some insects to shift their geographic ranges, which can lead to local declines or extinctions in some areas and the potential invasion of new habitats in others.

Invasive Species

Human activities, such as global trade and transportation, have facilitated the introduction of non-native species into new environments. Some of these invasive species can negatively impact native insect populations by competing for resources, preying on native species, or introducing diseases.

For example, the introduction of the Asian long-horned beetle has led to the destruction of native tree species in North America, impacting the insects that rely on these trees for habitat and food.

Consequences and Conservation Efforts

The decline in insect populations can have cascading effects on ecosystems and human well-being. For instance, the loss of pollinators may lead to reduced crop yields and the decline of wild plant species, while the loss of insects as a food source can impact the populations of insectivorous animals like birds and bats.

Furthermore, declines in insect populations can disrupt ecosystem services, such as decomposition and nutrient cycling, which are vital for maintaining soil fertility and supporting plant growth.

To address the human impact on insect populations, conservation efforts should focus on preserving and restoring natural habitats, implementing sustainable agricultural practices that minimize pesticide use, and mitigating climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Additionally, measures to prevent the spread of invasive species and promote the recovery of threatened insect populations should be prioritized.


Human activities have had far-reaching consequences for insect populations, with potential ripple effects throughout ecosystems and for human well-being. By recognizing the importance of insects and adopting conservation measures that protect their habitats and minimize harmful practices, we can work towards preserving the delicate balance of nature and ensuring the continued survival of these vital creatures.

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