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University of Kentucky Department of Entomology

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compiled by Rudy Scheibner, Extension Entomologist
and Stephanie Bailey, Entomology Extension Specialist

The following information may come in handy for display boards, starting discussions, guessing games, etc.


1. How many different kinds of insects are there?

There are over a million species of insects. There are over 90,000 spp. of insects in North America. Insects outnumber all other animals at a rate of 4 to 1.

2. What is Kentucky's state insect?

Our official state insect is the Viceroy butterfly. Kansas has chosen the Viceroy as well. Other state insects include:

Monarch - Alabama, Illinois, Vermont

Honey Bee - Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin

Praying Mantis - Connecticut, South Carolina

Ladybug - Delaware, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Tennessee

Firefly - Pennsylvania and Tennessee

Tiger Swallowtail - Georgia, Ohio, Virginia and Wyoming

California Dogface Butterfly - California

Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly - Colorado

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly - Florida

Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly - Maryland

Spicebush Swallowtail - Mississippi

Oregon Swallowtail - Oregon

3. How many lenses are in a dragonfly's eyes?

Dragonflies have as many as 30,000 lenses in each eye.

4. How far can insects fly?

Painted ladies migrating from Africa to England must travel over 3,000 miles.

5. What was the biggest insect ever?

The fossil dragonfly, Meganeura, that lived about 250 million years ago was probably the largest insect ever. Its wingspan was over two feet.

6. What is the largest living insect?

LONGEST - a tropical stick insect - 13 inches from end to end.

HEAVIEST - the goliath beetle in Africa (weighs 1/4 pound and is 5 inches long). They belong to the same family (scarab beetles) as the eastern hercules beetle, which is about 2 inches long including the horn.

7. What is the largest butterfly?

The largest butterfly is the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing from New Guinea (an endangered species), with a wingspan of 11 inches.

The largest moth is the Owlet moth of tropical America, with a wingspan of 18 inches.

8. What is the smallest butterfly?

The smallest butterfly is the blue butterfly from Africa, which has only a 1/2 inch wingspan.

9. What is the smallest insect?

The smallest insects are fairyflies, which are insects that parasitize or lay their eggs inside other insects' eggs (including pest insects!). Fairyflies are only 1/5 of a millimeter long.

10. How fast can insects fly?

The male deer bot fly is reputed to develop flying speeds of several hundred miles per hour, but this is probably an exaggeration. A tabanid fly, related to horse flies, has been clocked at 90 miles per hour. Hawk moths have been timed at 33.5 miles per hour. A dragonfly of the species Anax parthenope has been clocked at almost 18 miles per hour. Honeybees fly at about 7 miles per hour, and have to beat their wings 190 times per second to do it.

11. How fast can insects flap their wings? Insects with the fastest wing beat frequency are the no-see-ums, or very tiny midges, which beat their hairy wings 1,046 times per second. Male mosquitoes beat their wings 450 to 600 times per second. Cabbageworm butterflies beat their wings nine times per second.

12. Which insects are the fastest runners?

The fastest runners are cockroaches, which can move almost a foot per second. However this only translates to a little over 1 mph.

13. What is the loudest insect?

The loudest insects are male cicadas, which can be heard about a quarter of a mile away.

14. How far can insects jump?

Fleas jump 200 times their body length-like a human clearing a 70-story building. Grasshoppers jump 80 times their length - like a human jumping 1 1/2 football fields. Flea beetles 1 inch long can jump up to 2 feet--like a human jumping over 15 cars. A 1/2 inch click beetle can catapult about 1 foot.

15. What is the most dangerous insect?

The most dangerous insects are mosquitoes, which pass on a parasite causing malaria, as well as the diseases dengue, yellow fever and certain types of encephalitis. Malaria kills a million people a year.

17. What type of insect has been on Earth the longest?

The oldest group of insects are the cockroaches, dating back 300 million years.

18. How long can insects live?

aphids - 3 weeks

Periodical cicadas - 17 years

The queen of a termite colony may lay 6,000 to 7,000 eggs per day, and may live 15 to 50 years.

19. What is the most common household insect problem?

house: ants

apartments: cockroaches

20. How much silk comes from each silkworm?

Each cocoon of a silkworm produces a single thread about 1,500 feet long. More than 25,000 cocoons are needed to make a pound of silk.


Locusts, or swarming grasshoppers, breed rapidly and many fly together in search of food. They are not common in the United States anymore, however in Africa, Europe and Asia, a large swarm may eat up to 80,000 tons of grain and other vegetation in a day.

The biggest group of insects are the beetles, numbering 330,000 species.

The insects with the biggest nests are termites. The largest termite mound, found in Australia was 6.1 meters across the base. The tallest termite mound, found in Africa, was 12.8 meters high, however only 3 meters across.

Some African and Australian termite colonies may have as many as 3 million individuals. (If termites were packed at the rate of 100 per cubic inch, a pickup truck with a bed 4 x 8 x 1.5 feet would have to make 7 trips to carry away 3 million termites.) (If one termite was 1/8 inch long, 3 million of them placed end to end would form a column 100 miles long.)

The first week as an adult worker, honeybees clean the hive. By the second week, they feed the young. The third week, they make and repair wax cells in the hive. By the fourth week, they have begun guarding the hive, and finally, they will visit flowers for pollen (bees have built-in saddle bags) and nectar from the fifth week till they die. Workers might live for 6 to 8 weeks, while queens live up to 5 years. The total distance of the many trips honey bees travel to produce a pound of honey is about equal to twice the distance around the world.

In warm weather, if the host plant is healthy, an aphid can produce 50 babies in one week, which will mature 1 week later. In one season, a single cabbage aphid and its young, if none died, could produce 1,560,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (1 heptillion, 560 hexillion) individuals under ideal conditions. Also under ideal conditions, one hectare of vegetation can feed 5 million aphids, which could produce 2 tons of honeydew every day.

The Asiatic silkworm moth (Bombyx mori) has been so domesticated over the centuries that it probably does not exist in the wild anymore. It has been reared in China for 4,000 years.

Spider silk may be stretched as much as 1/4 its length before breaking. (bungi jumping?) The silk of Nephila spiders is the strongest natural fiber known, and South Sea Islanders use the silk to make bags and fish nets.

Comparative studies show that humans have 792 distinct muscles, whereas grasshoppers have 900, and caterpillars may have as many as 4,000 separate muscles.

An average man can pull about 0.86 times his own weight, but a leaf beetle (Donacia) can pull 42.7 times its own weight. Horses pull .5 wt, ants pull 52 times their weight (comparable to a human pulling 4.5 tons)

Some insect orders are always wingless as adults. However, all orders of insects, except for Odonata (Dragonflies and Damselflies), contain some species that are wingless as adults.

Among most insects, both males and females occur; but in many species only the female sex occurs. Hermaphroditism, where both sexes are functional in the same individual, rarely occurs in insects. In the California race of the cottonycushion scale, 90 to 99% of the individuals are hermaphrodites that can fertilize their own eggs. The remaining individuals are all males. No true females occur.

Egyptian mythology and art included the following insects:

Dung beetles or scarabs-jewelry, dung rolling reminded Egyptians of the sun (which they called Ra) rolling across the sky each day.
Buprestid beetles-wood borers are the symbol of a myth, where a goddess (Isis) brought a warrior? Odyssus back to life
Click beetles - the pronotum is shaped like the shield of ancient Egyptian soldiers
Biting flies were symbols of determination, preserverence, valor, gold medals in the shape of the flies were given to soldiers
Grasshoppers, dragonflies and bees were used in jewelry, as a symbol of life on the Nile
Praying mantids were a symbol of funerals, and the afterlife

Biosatellite II orbited the Earth with gnats, flour beetles and wasps.

Springtails and mites have been found at both of the Earth's poles.

Nicknames for Dragonflies:

  • DEVILS DARNING NEEDLES - from a belief that dragonflies sew up children's ears
  • SNAKE DOCTORS - from a belief that dragonflies warn snakes of approaching danger

In Japan, dragonflies are a symbol of victory on the battlefield.

Insects with really interesting life histories include:

  • the coffin fly maintains itself for many generations in human bodies buried in coffins

  • petroleum flies feed on other flies that get trapped in pools of crude petroleum in California

  • mosquitoes of genus Malaya steal honeydew from the jaws of worker ants

  • a female bot fly lays her eggs on the proboscis of a mosquito; when the mosquito bites a human, the bot fly larvae emerge from their eggs and crawl under the human's skin through the mosquito bite or by boring into the flesh

  • blister beetles have been used both as an aphrodisiac and to produce hair on bald heads (neither claim has been substantiated)

  • An Australian bee, called a karbi, invented the rack: if an intruder arrives at the hive entrance, guards grip its limbs in their jaws and immobilize it by stretching its limbs to their full extent for an hour

Other Web Sites of Interest

Photographs courtesy of Corel PhotoCD, copyright 1995

Last updated: 15 January 1999

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