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Insect Orders

Each order can be further categorized into families. See how many insect families you recognize!

Table of Contents

Order: Hymenoptera

Ants (Family: Formicidae)
Army Ants swarm through the jungle and eat any insects in their path, overpowering them with their sheer numbers. 

Bees (Family: Apidae)
Bees are very important pollinators. The United States government is helping the honey bee population stay healthy so the bees can help us grow crops. Interestingly, honey bees are not native to North America. Honey bees were imported to America from Europe in the 1600s. 

Wasps (Family: Vespidae)
The Horse Guard Wasp is a predator of flies, including the horse fly. Its name comes from the fact that it protects horses (and humans) from horse flies, which are vicious blood suckers. If you see this wasp in your neighborhood, consider yourself lucky.

Many Hymenoptera species form social colonies. For example, in an ant colony, there is the queen, the female workers, and the males. Each member of the colony has a role, and they work together to survive. Bees and wasps also form colonies. There are some species that are solitary, which means they live independently.

Order: Diptera

Mosquitoes (Family: Culicidae)
The mosquito is the deadliest insect in the world because it spreads many deadly diseases. Only female mosquitoes drink blood. The biggest mosquito in the world is the Australian Elephant mosquito, but don’t worry, it does not bite humans. The Australian Elephant mosquito is actually beneficial because its larva is a predator of harmful mosquitoes.

Midges (Family: Chironomidae)
Midges are often mistaken for mosquitoes, but there are some key differences.
1. Midges do not bite humans. 
2. Midges do not have a proboscis, which is the needle-like mouthpart that mosquitoes use to suck blood.
3. Midges often raise their front legs in the air while at rest, while mosquitoes often raise their back legs in the air.

Crane Flies (Family: Tipulidae)
They are often mistaken for giant mosquitoes, but none of the biting mosquitoes are this large. Crane flies are harmless to humans.

Fruit Flies (Family: Drosophilidae)
Fruit flies have been very important in genetic research. This research helps us develop new medicines to treat human diseases.

Flower Flies (Family: Syrphidae)
Many of them mimic bees and wasps in appearance. They are beneficial because they eat insect pests like aphids.

Biting Flies (Family: Tabanidae)
Includes horse flies, deer flies, and yellow flies. Many of them bite humans. Only females drink blood.

Parasitic Flies of Insects (Family: Tachinidae)
They only parasitize arthropods, almost exclusively insects. They are beneficial because they parasitize insect pests like caterpillars. They are harmless to humans.

Diptera are “true flies”. Many insects have “fly” in their name (e.g. dragonfly), but they are not part of the order Diptera, so they are not “true flies”. Diptera species have one pair of wings, unlike most flying insects which have two pairs of wings. Fly larvae are called maggots.

Order: Lepidoptera

Brush-footed Butterflies (Family: Nymphalidae)
Includes the Monarch butterfly. They have small front legs that are not used for walking. This means they only walk with four legs. They are the only members of Lepidoptera that walk with four legs.

Swallowtail Butterflies (Family: Papilionidae)
Includes the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, the largest butterfly in the world. They have “tails” on the end of their wings. 

Wild Silk Moths (Family: Saturniidae)
Includes the Atlas Moth, the largest moth in the world. They have thick and hairy bodies.

Sphinx Moths (Family: Sphingidae)
They are also known as hawk moths or hummingbird moths. Their wings are designed for flying fast. They can fly at speeds of over 30 mph.

Lepidoptera species have wings covered with scales. They are the only insects that can roll up their proboscis, which is the long mouth they use to drink nectar. In some moth species, the female has no wings. In these species, the female releases pheromones to attract males and waits for the males to fly to them.

Butterfly and moth larvae are called caterpillars.

Order: Coleoptera

Ladybugs (Family: Coccinellidae)
Ladybugs are known for being red with black spots, but they can be other colors like orange and yellow. They can also be black with red spots. Ladybugs are important predators of aphids and other insect pests.

Weevils (Family: Curculionidae)
They have a long, curved proboscis that looks like an elephant’s trunk.

Scarab Beetles (Family: Scarabaeidae)
This includes the Goliath Beetle, the heaviest insect in the world. They have unique antennae. The end of their antennae are thick and can expand like a fan.

Ground Beetles (Family: Carabidae)
This includes the Tiger Beetle, the fastest running insect in the world. Ground beetles run quickly and rarely fly.

Coleoptera species are the beetles. They have two pairs of wings: the hard outer wings (elytra) and the soft inner wings, which are folded underneath the elytra. Beetle larvae are called grubs.

Order: Orthoptera

Long-horned Grasshoppers and Katydids (Family: Tettigoniidae)
They have very long antennae. Katydids are a kind of grasshopper that tend to be larger with a more oval-shaped body.

Short-horned Grasshoppers and Locusts (Family: Acrididae)
They have short antennae. Locusts are a special kind of grasshopper. Millions of them join together in giant swarms to hunt for plants. This swarming behavior is not seen in other grasshoppers.

True Crickets (Family: Gryllidae)
They are usually dull in color and have flattened bodies. Females have a long, needle-shaped ovipositor.

Mole Crickets (Family: Gryllotalpidae)
Their front legs are modified for digging and look like claws

Orthoptera species have two pairs of wings. The thicker outer wings protect the more delicate inner wings. Many of them have long hind legs that are used for jumping. The males often sing to attract females. Grasshoppers produce sound by rubbing their hind legs against their wings. Crickets produce sound by rubbing their wings together. Rubbing together body parts to produce sound is called stridulation.


Order: Odonata

Dragonflies (Suborder: Anisoptera)
They have large eyes that are very close together. They have a large, muscular body and a chunky tail.

Damselflies (Suborder: Zygoptera)
Their eyes are smaller than that of a dragonfly. Their eyes are also widely separated. They have a slim body and a thin tail. 

There are two suborders within Odonata: the Dragonflies and the Damselflies. There are more specific families within these suborders. The nymph stage is aquatic, and the adults are common around ponds and lakes. Their diet consists of small insects like mosquitoes.


Order: Hemiptera

Suborder: Sternorrhyncha
Includes aphids, whiteflies, scales, and mealybugs. They feed on plant sap. Male scales and male mealybugs have one pair of wings, unlike most flying insects.

Suborder: Heteroptera
Includes assassin bugs, bed bugs, stink bugs, water bugs, and water striders. Assassin bugs eat other insects, with the exception of the kissing bug. The kissing bug is the only assassin bug that feeds on the blood of mammals, including humans.

Suborder: Auchenorrhyncha
Includes cicadas, planthoppers, and spittle bugs. They feed on plant sap. One type of planthopper is the infamous Spotted Lanternfly. The Spotted Lanternfly is an invasive pest in the United States that is a major problem as of 2022. The Spittlebug is the fastest jumping insect.
It can jump over 2 feet high even though it is less than 1/4 inch long. It jumps so fast that it almost looks like it teleports.

Hemiptera are “true bugs”. Insects are commonly referred to as bugs, but scientists only use the word “bug” for insects in the Order Hemiptera. They have a straw-like mouthpart that is designed for piercing and sucking. Herbivorous species suck sap out of plants. Carnivorous species suck fluid out of their prey.


Order: Mantodea

Mantodea species are the praying mantids. Praying mantids catch insects with their specialized front legs. They can also turn their heads 180 degrees.

The Orchid Mantis disguises itself as an orchid flower to ambush unsuspecting prey. The Brunner’s Mantis is the only species of praying mantis that can reproduce through parthenogenesis. This means the female can lay fertile eggs without mating.


Order: Phasmatodea

Stick Insects (Family: Phasmatidae)
They are also called “walking sticks”. They are long and slender. They usually camouflage themselves as twigs. The longest insect in the world is a walking stick: Phryganistria chinensis Zhao, named in honor of the person who discovered it.

Leaf Insects (Family: Timemidae)
They are wide and flat. They usually camouflage themselves as leaves.

Phasmatodea species are all herbivores that mainly eat leaves.

Order: Mantophasmatodea

Mantophasmatodea species look similar to mantids and stick insects, which is why this order is named after the mantis order (Mantodea) and the stick insect order (Phasmatodea). Their common name is heelwalkers.

They are wingless. They eat other insects. They are only found in Africa.

Order: Neuroptera

Green Lacewings (Family: Chrysopidae)
The adults are bright green. The larvae eat insect pests like aphids. To hide from predators, the larvae cover themselves in debris and the exoskeletons of their prey.

Brown Lacewings (Family: Hemerobiidae)
The adults are brown. The larvae eat insect pests like aphids. Unlike green lacewings, brown lacewing larvae do not cover themselves with anything.

Mantidflies (Family: Mantispidae)
The Green Mantidfly looks like a combination of a praying mantis and a green lacewing. The Wasp Mantidfly looks like a combination of a praying mantis and a wasp. Adult mantidflies catch and eat insects with their front legs, just like a praying mantis. Many mantidflies are parasitoids of spiders. The larva rides on the back of a female spider and waits for the spider to lay its egg sac. Then the larva enters the egg sac and eats the spider eggs until it is ready to pupate and become an adult. 

Antlions (Family: Myrmeleontidae)
Antlion larvae are famous for making cone-shaped pits that they use to trap prey. Antlions sometimes make their pits right next to ant mounds, so they have easy access to food when the unsuspecting ants walk around their mound and fall into the pit. 

Owlflies (Family: Ascalaphidae)
Owlfly larvae look similar to antlion larvae, but they do not make pits. Instead, they wait around in bushes and trees for the chance to ambush their prey. 

Neuroptera species have two long pairs of wings with many veins.

Order: Megaloptera

Dobsonflies (Family: Corydalidae)
Dobsonfly larvae are known as hellgrammites. Hellgrammites have mouth pincers that deliver a painful bite. The adult male has impressively large pincers but is actually incapable of biting. Its pincers are used for battling rival males.

Megaloptera also includes fishflies and alderflies. Megaloptera larvae are aquatic, and they have strong pincers which are used to catch prey.

Order: Ephemeroptera

Ephemeroptera species are the mayflies. The larva stage can last a few years, but the adults only live for a few days or even one day, depending on the species. The adult female of the American Sand Burrowing Mayfly only lives for 5 minutes! However, that is still enough time for them to mate and lay eggs.

Mayflies are the only insects that molt again after they have functional wings.

Order: Mecoptera

Common Scorpionflies (Family: Panorpidae)
Males have what looks like a scorpion tail on their abdomen, but that is actually just its reproductive organ. Scorpionflies do not sting.

Hangingflies (Family: Bittacidae)
They look like crane flies, but they have two pairs of wings while crane flies have one pair of wings. They catch and eat insects with their hind legs.

Mecoptera species have a head shaped like a beak. 

Order: Blattodea

Cockroaches (All families other than termites)
Cockroaches are an infamous pest that can spread diseases. However, only a small minority of all cockroach species are pests. Most cockroaches live outside the home and are beneficial recyclers of waste in the environment. 

Termites (Infraorder: Isoptera)
Termites used to be in their own order, but recent evidence proves they are closely related to cockroaches and should be in the same order. Termites form colonies with workers, soldiers, a king, and a queen. Termites have a king, unlike ants, bees, and wasps. The termite queen is the longest living insect. She can live for over 20 years.

Termites eat wood, and they sometimes infest homes. Most termites are beneficial recyclers of dead trees. By removing decaying wood, they help keep forests clean and healthy.

Order: Dermaptera

Dermaptera species are the earwigs. Their name comes from a myth that they crawl into people’s ears. This is not true. While many insects are technically small enough to enter someone’s ear, insects are not “trying” to enter the ear. 

Earwigs have distinctive pincers on their abdomen. Female earwigs take care of their babies. Earwigs can damage plants but they also eat insect pests like aphids. Some species have two pairs of wings: hard outer wings (elytra) and soft inner wings.

Order: Thysanura

Dermaptera species are the silverfish and firebrats. They are wingless. They are a nuisance in the home.

Order: Siphonaptera

Siphonaptera species are the fleas. They are parasites of birds and mammals, including humans. They feed on blood. They can spread diseases and tapeworms. They are wingless, but they can jump very high to land on their host. Fleas have a larva stage.

Order: Phthiraptera

Biting lice (Mallophaga)
They are parasites of birds and mammals. They chew on dead skin. None of them affect humans.

Sucking lice (Siphunculata)
They are parasites of mammals. They suck blood. There are three species of human lice: the head lice, the body lice, and the crab lice. The Seal Lice lives on seals, and it is the only insect able to live in the ocean.

Phthiraptera species are the lice. They are wingless. They cannot jump, so they mainly spread through physical contact and infested objects. Lice have a nymph stage.

Order: Embiidina

Embiidina species are the webspinners. Webspinners make silk tents to live in. They produce silk from their front legs. Female webspinners take care of their babies.

Order: Strepsiptera

Strepsiptera species are the twisted-wing parasites. They are parasites of insects, including bees and wasps. The female sticks out of its host’s abdomen so the male can mate with her. The male’s large eyes are made up of many simple eyes. Each individual sphere is a simple eye. This is different from the compound eyes of most insects. 

Extra Info

The order Diptera, the order Strepsiptera, scales, and mealybugs are the only flying insects with one pair of wings (2 wings total).
All other flying insects have two pairs of wings (4 wings total).

Out of all the insect orders mentioned here, the only orders that are completely wingless are the fleas, the lice, the silverfish and firebrats, and Mantophasmatodea.