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The Medical Importance of Insects to Man
Insects are the largest group of organisms (Class Insecta) on earth. Whether measured in terms of the number of species or the number of individuals. Insects live in every possible habitat on land and fresh water, and some have even invaded the sea. More than 70% of all named animal species are insects, and the actual proportion is undoubtedly much higher, because millions of additional forms await discovery, classification, and naming.
Most insects are relatively small, ranging in size from 0.1 mm to head, thorax and abdomen; three pairs of legs, all attached to the thorax; and a pair of antennae. In addition, they may have one or two pairs of wings. Most insects have compound eyes, and many also have ocelli. The mouthparts of insects are elaborate. They usually consist of jaws or mandibles, which are strong and unsegmented; a secondary pair of mouthparts, the maxillae, which are segmented; and the lower lip, or labium, which probably evolved from the fusion of another pair of maxilla-like structures. The upper lip, called the labrium, is of less certain origin. The hypopharynx is a short, tongue-like organ (in chewing insects) that lies between the maxillae and above the labium, the salivary glands usually open above or near the hypopharynx. Within this basic structural framework. mouthparts vary widely among insect groups, mainly in relation to their feeding habits.
Many orders of insects – such as Coleoptera, beetles; Hymenoptera, grasshoppers, crickets and their relatives – have chewing mouthparts or mandibles. In other orders, the mouthparts may be elongated or style-like. For example, in some flies (order Diptera) such as mosquitoes, black flies and horse flies. there are six piercing, fused styles: labrium, mandibles, maxillae, and hypopharynx; the labium envelops the styles. In more advanced flies, the labium may be the main piercing organ or may be expanded into large soft lobes through which liquid food is absorbed. The thorax of insects consists of three segments (tagmata), each of which has a pair of legs. Occasionally, one or more of these pairs of legs is missing. Legs are completely absent in the larvae of certain groups – for example, in most members of the order Hymenoptera, bees, wasps and ants – and among flies, the order Diptera. If two pairs of wings are present, they are attached to the middle and posterior segments of the thorax; if only one pair of wings is present, it usually attaches to the middle segment. The chest is almost entirely filled with muscles that operate the legs and arms. Insect wings arise as a sac-like growth of the body wall; in adult insects, they are solid, except for the veins. The internal characteristics of insects resemble those of other arthropods. Insects possess sophisticated means of sensing their environment, including sensory hairs to detect chemical signals called pheromones. Most young insects hatch from fertilized eggs laid outside their mother’s body. The zygote develops inside the egg into a young insect, which escapes by chewing or bursting the shell. During the course of their development into adults, the young insects undergo ecdysis several times before they become adults and stop molting forever. Most insects molt 4 to 8 times during their development. The stages between molts are defined as instars.
There are two main types of metamorphosis in insects: simple and complete. In simple metamorphosis, the wings develop internally during the juvenile stages and emerge externally only during the resting stages immediately preceding the final molt. During this stage, the insect is called a pupa or chrysais, depending on which group it belongs to. A pupa does not normally move much, although mosquito pupae move freely. A great deal of internal reorganization of the insect’s body takes place when it is a pupa or chrysalis. In insects with simple metamorphosis, the immature stages are often called nymphs. They are usually quite similar to adults, differing mainly in their smaller size, less well-developed wings and sometimes their coloration. More than 90% of insects, including members of all the largest and most successful orders, exhibit complete metamorphosis, in which juvenile and adult stages often live in different habitats, have different habits, and are usually extremely different in shape. In these insects, development is indirect. Insect larvae are immature, often worm-like stages that differ greatly in appearance from adults of the same species. Larvae do not have compound eyes. They can be legless or have legs, and sometimes have legs as appendages on their abdomens. Pupae do not feed and are usually relatively inactive. As pupae, insects are extremely vulnerable to predators and parasites, they are often covered by a cocoon or some other protective structure. Groups of insects with complete metamorphosis include moths and butterflies; beetles; bees, wasps and ants; flies and fleas.
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