Insect Structure and Function

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Insect Body

Insect's bodies are covered by an exoskeleton. This exoskeleton provides support and protection to the underlying living tissues. It is 'acellular' so is secreted by underlying epidermis. The outer layer is called the epicuticle which is composed of proteins and covered by a waxy layer. The inner layers are the endocuticle and exocuticle which are composed of protein and chitin. An insect's body is metameric (divided into segments). The segments include; head, body and abdomen. The segments are linked by articular membranes, allowing movement.

Insect Head

Blow Fly Head
Martin Pot 2008, WikiMedia Commons
Illustration of Mouthparts
Heds 2007, WikiMedia Commons
Insect Leg
Shyamal 1909, Wikimedia Commons

An insect's head is composed of a capsule of fused plates at the anterior end of the body. They have one large pair of compound eyes and honeycomb like corneal facets. In contrast to this, are the three simple ocelli, found dorsal to compound eyes. Insects also have one pair of antennae on their head's.


Antennae forms vary amongst insecta. For example they can be long and segmented or short and squat.Hairs are sometimes present, as are aristae (bristles).


Mouthparts are modified depending on the insect's feeding method. Insects that suck up liquified food, have an expanded sponge-like labellae. They cannot penetrate skin. They also have palps present which are sensory structures. Insects that suck blood, have long slender mouthparts for piercing skin. Mouthparts include:

    • Hypopharynx- (hp)The bottom part of the pharynx.
    • Mandibles- (md) Appendages near the insect's mouth.
    • Labrum- (lb) A lobe-like structure acting like an upper lip.
    • Maxillae- (mx) Modified limbs that work as a pair of accessory jaws.

Larval mouthparts are prominent. They contain One pair of hooks, a Cephalo-pharyngeal skeleton

    • Mouthparts help identify larvae

Insect Thorax

  • Divided into three segments
    • Prothorax, mesothorax and metathorax
  • Each segment has one pair of legs attached
  • One or two pairs of wings may be present on the mesothorax and metathorax


  • Leg is attached to the body by coxa
  • Trochanter
  • Femur
  • Tibia
  • Tarsus, which is composed of several segments
  • Claw
  • Usually six-segmented


Insect Wing Showing Veins
Siga 2007, WikiMedia Commons
  • Insects usually posess two pairs of wings
  • Diptera have a reduced second pair of wings called halteres for balance
  • Membranous outgrowth of the integument
  • The wing venation can be used for identification
    • Longitudinal veins
    • Cross veins
    • Open cells
    • Closed cells

Insect Abdomen

  • Segmented
  • Soft
  • Appendages present
    • Copulatory claspers
    • Ovipositor
    • External genitalia

Respiratory System

  • Branching trachea strengthened by spiral thickenings in the walls
  • Trachea communicate with outside via spiracles
    • Spiracles on side of body
    • Chitinous openings
    • Muscular control so can open and close at will
    • Mounted on stigmatic plates
    • Lead to trachea
  • Muscular contactions of the body wall produce respiratory movements
  • Shape of spiracles and stigmatic plates used for species identification

Alimentary and Excretary System

  • The precise shape of the gut varies between arthropods
  • The Alimentary canal is divided into fore, mid and hind gut
  • Midgut:
    • Stores food
    • Secretes enzymes for digestion
    • Outlet for malpighian tubules (equivalent of the mammalian kidney)
  • Hindgut:
    • Water resorption

Circulatory System

  • Heart situated dorsally
    • Valves divide heart into compartments
    • Valves only let blood flow forwards
  • Haemocoele
    • General body cavity
    • Equivalent to the capillary circulation in mammals
    • Contains haemolymph
  • Ostia (openings) in the blood vessel walls allow return of blood to the heart

Nervous System

  • Chain of fused ganglia running along the floor of the abdomen and thorax
    • Nerves are given off from chain
  • Complex nervous system
    • Well developed visual senses

Fat Body

  • Large structure
  • Cells containing fat vacuoles
  • Lines the body cavity and internal organs
  • Equivalent to the visceral and parietal peritoneum in mammals
  • Food reservoir during hibernation or starvation periods

Reproductive System

  • Most insects have seperate sexes
  • Reproductive organs are analogous to mammals
  • Spermatheca present in females
    • Accessory female sex organ
    • Recepticle for spermatozoa
    • Sperm remains viable for most of the female's life cycle

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Insecta Flashcards