Insects possess segmented bodies supported by an exoskeleton, a hard outer covering made mostly of chitin. The segments of the body are organized into three distinctive but interconnected units, or tagmata; a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. The head supports a pair of sensory antennae, a pair of compound eyes, one to three simple eyes and three sets of variously modified appendages that form the mouthparts. The thorax has six segmented legs and two or four wings (if present in the species). The abdomen (made up of eleven segments some of which may be reduced or fused) has most of the digestive, respiratory, excretory and reproductive internal structures.
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Most insects hatch from eggs, but some are ovoviviparous or viviparous, and all undergo a series of moults as they develop and grow in size. This manner of growth is necessitated by the inelastic exoskeleton. Moulting is a process by which the individual escapes the confines of the exoskeleton in order to increase in size, then grows a new and larger outer covering. In some insects, the young are called nymphs and are similar in form to the adult except that the wings are not developed until the adult stage. This is called incomplete metamorphosis and insects showing this are termed hemimetabolous. Holometabolous insects show complete metamorphosis, which distinguishes the Endopterygota and includes many of the most successful insect groups. In these species, an egg hatches to produce a larva, which is generally worm-like in form, and can be divided into five different forms; eruciform (caterpillar-like), scarabaeiform (grublike), campodeiform (elongated, flattened, and active), elateriform (wireworm-like) and vermiform (maggot-like). The larva grows and eventually becomes a pupa, a stage marked by reduced movement and often sealed within a cocoon. There are three types of pupae; obtect (the pupa is compact with the legs and other appendages enclosed), exarate (where the pupa has the legs and other appendages free and extended) and coarctate (where the pupa develops inside the larval skin). In the pupal stage, the insect undergoes considerable change in form to emerge as an adult, or imago. Butterflies are an example of an insect that undergoes complete metamorphosis. Some insects have even evolved hypermetamorphosis.