Insect Adaptation

Insect Adaptation
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  • 0:00 Insect Success
  • 0:55 Exoskeleton & Size
  • 2:29 Reproduction
  • 3:26 Flight & Metamorphosis
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

You may think of insects as pests, but they are amazing little creatures that have taken over the world! This lesson will outline the adaptations that have made insects so successful.

Insect Success

What group of animals is the 'top dog' on earth? You might think of a giant predator, like bears. In fact, think smaller... much smaller. The answer is insects. Insects are the most numerous animal on earth!

In fact there are more species of insect than any other organism. Scientists believe there are a whole lot of insects that haven't even been discovered yet. With over 900,000 species, it's safe to assume these little critters are a successful group. So what adaptations do insects have that make them the 'top dog'?

Insects have several unique adaptations including the exoskeleton, their size, how they reproduce, their ability to fly, and metamorphosis. Let's explore each of these in more detail.

Exoskeleton and Size

Unlike you, insects have an exoskeleton, which means that they don't have internal bones but, instead, an external structure that protects their insides. The exoskeleton not only protects internal structures, it also provides shape and structure to the insect's body and prevents water loss in dry environments.

The exoskeleton makes insects a lot like super heroes. For example, much of the exoskeleton is made of substances that allow it to be as strong as certain metals but as flexible as rubber. The insect's muscles can attach directly to the exoskeleton, which allows for extreme strength. The dung beetle, for example, can pull over a thousand times its own weight, which would be the equivalent of you pulling six double decker buses.

The next adaptation that makes insects so successful is their small size. Sure, you've heard 'bigger is better', but having an exoskeleton changes things. For example, if a human had an exoskeleton, it would need to be thicker and larger in order to support all of the extra body weight. This would be heavy and maneuverability would decrease. Insects are just the right size to reap the benefits of exoskeleton protection.

Being small has other advantages, too. For example, being small makes hiding from predators a lot easier. Just think about trying to hide a gazelle versus an ant. Finally, being small means you require less food and water.


Can you imagine having ten million siblings? You could if you were an African termite! Ten million is a lot (even for an insect). Many female insects will lay between 100 and 500 eggs in their lifetime, leading to population explosions in some cases.

For example, an aphid can have 50 offspring within a week. These offspring quickly mature and produce their own offspring. By the end of the season, the aphid and her family can produce a lot of aphids - in fact, 1.6 septillion aphids (that's assuming all of them survived, which is highly unlikely).

This quick method of reproduction means insects can quickly exploit and take over available environments. And, because insects are usually the prey for a lot of other organisms, insects are ensuring their survival by having a lot of offspring so some will survive to reproduce themselves.

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