Insect Habitats: Facts, Characteristics & Types

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we're going to be exploring the diverse class of ''Insecta'', or insects. Here, we'll learn about one of the most versatile groups of organisms on Earth and the different types of habitats they live in.

What Are Insects?

The minuscule, creepy, crawly world of insects gives some of us the chills. Although in the city many insects are seen as pests, they are a crucial part of our ecosystem. Insects keep populations of other insects in balance, decompose dead material, return nutrients to the soil, clear waste from other animals, and pollinate flowers so humans and animals alike have food.

Insects are animals with segmented bodies, six jointed legs, and exoskeletons. Some have wings, but not all. Some organisms we think of as insects are actually not, such as scorpions, spiders, centipedes and millipedes. Examples of insects include ants, butterflies, and beetles.

Where Do Insects Live?

Insects are one of the most versatile classes of organisms. They live in every environment on Earth, from the high-altitude mountains in Nepal, to the desert sands of the Sahara, to tropical rainforests. Today, we're going to look at some of these habitats and what types of insects make homes there.


Humans aren't the only ones that need to construct a home. The weaver ant lives in heavily forested areas of sub-Saharan Africa in the trees. It constructs complicated structures out of leaves and a natural 'glue'. Weaver ants scour the trees for suitable leaves, attempting to bend the leaf over itself. When one leaf starts to bend, other ants join in, grabbing the original ant to help pull the leaf back into a pocket-like shape, but nest building isn't just for adults. The adult ants use the silk produced by the larvae as glue to seal the leaves shut. The silk produced by larvae isn't used to spin cocoons, but rather to create this structure that affords them protection from predators.


Other insects use a different kind of material to build their homes. Honeybees build elaborate hives from wax organized into neat hexagons for optimal honey storage. The bees collect nectar from flowers, storing it in their honey stomach. When the stomach is full, they return to the hive. The nectar is evaporated to the thicker form we know, honey. The honey is then stored in the hexagon cells.

But, how do they make this complex hexagon habitat in the first place? Well, worker bees develop special glands that allow them to convert honey to wax. The wax oozes through pores onto their abdomen and other bees collect and chew it, making it into a pliable substance they use to build their hive habitat. Hives can be built in tree branches, hollows inside trees, or rock crevices.

Honeybees gather around a hive

Wasps and hornets also make nests, but they are made of a paper-like substance that is created from chewing wood. They do not consume nectar to make honey and wax as honeybees do.


Other insects prefer to spend their time underground. Termites create massive mounds above and below the ground, with extensive tunnel systems connecting their home. Their mounds can reach up to 17 feet high and weigh up to 10 tons. Scientists have studied these amazing habitats, baffled by how such a small animal, less than the size of a paperclip, could move such an impressive amount of soil. Although they might be small, termites live in colonies of a million members, each pulling their own weight to construct the mound.

Visitors gaze at a Cathedral termite mound
termite mound

Scientists have pumped abandoned termite mounds with plaster to see how extensive the tunnels are. The findings were amazing, with large tunnels connecting the top of the mound deep into the ground, around six feet below the surface.


Although we usually think of bugs in the trees, air, or crawling on land, some enjoy a life on the water. The caddisfly is a species of winged insect that lives mostly in slow moving, freshwater habitats around the world. A few species live on land or in saltwater, but most prefer inland freshwater.

A caddisfly larva spinning a protective nest underwater

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