Parts of an Insect: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

Some insects have stripes while others have spots. Some are as big as your finger and others are smaller than your fingernail. But even though they may look different, the three parts of these insects are the same.

Name Those Parts

What if you woke up one morning able to smell with your ears and breathe through your skin? You'd have a lot in common with insects, like ants, flies and grasshoppers. Even though they can look and act very different from each other, every type of insect has the same three parts - a head, a thorax and an abdomen.

The Head

The head is the insect's control center and is found at the front of the body. It's where all the sensory information is processed - sight, smell, touch, and hearing. Just like your head, it's where the eyes are located. And just like you do, insects use their eyes to locate food, watch out for danger, and find their way around.

Near the top of their head are two antennae. These are sometimes called 'feelers' because they can sense touch. But insects also use their antennae to pick up smells and sounds because they don't have noses or ears. Imagine if your nose and ears were replaced with antennae - would you be able to smell your teacher talking?

Ants use their sharp mouthparts, or mandibles, to cut and bite food
Ant Head

Their mouthparts are also located on their head, and insects have different kinds, depending on what they eat. Some, like stinkbugs, have mouthparts for piercing and sucking juice out of fruits. Others have long tongues to eat nectar, like butterflies. No matter the style of mouthparts an insect has, they are always located toward the front of the head, making it easier to gobble down a snack.

The Thorax

The middle section of the insect's body is called the thorax. An insect's six legs are all attached to the underside of the thorax. If the insect has wings, like a bee does, they are also attached there, but at the top.

The thorax may be small, but it has strong muscles to control the wings and legs. In fact, dung beetles are strong enough to pull 1,141 times their own weight. If they were a 100 pound human, they would be able to pull about 114,000 pounds, or eight large elephants.

Fly with wings and legs attached to the thorax
Fly with Wings and Legs Attached to the Thorax

Now, remember - insects don't have noses. So if they need oxygen to live but don't have noses, how do they breathe? From little holes in the thorax. These holes are tiny and very hard to see.

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