Basic Facts: Insect Classification
Classification of Insects

Classification is the way in which species are placed into larger and larger groups or catetories that share similarities and a common ancestry. For example, bees, wasps, and ants are members of the insect order Hymenoptera. Hymenoptera includes many families for the different kinds of bees, wasps, and ants. The family that includes honey bees and bumblebees is Apidae. Bumblebees are in the genus Bombus, and honey bees are in the genus Apis. The genus Apis includes several species, one of which is the honey bee, Apis mellifera.


The sequence of classification categories can be remembered by memorizing this mnemonic phrase:

King Phillip, Come Out For Goodness Sake!


CATEGORY
EXAMPLE OF honey bee
Kingdom
Animal
Phylum
Arthropoda
Class
Hexapoda
Order
Hymenoptera
Family
Apidae
Genus
Apis
Species
mellifera

Kingdom

Living organisms can be placed in four Kingdoms: Virus, Bacteria, Plant, and Animal. The Animal Kingdom is divided into Phyla (more than one phylum).

Phylum

There are more than 30 phyla in the Animal Kingdom. For example, Phylum Annelida includes earthworms, and Phylum Chordata includes humans, birds, fish, and all other animals with a backbone.


Phylum Arthropoda includes insects, spiders, lobsters, and related animals. Arthropods have segmented bodies with the segments grouped into two or three distinct sections. They have hard external skeletons, or exoskeletons, that are shed and regenerated as the animals grow.

Class

Phylum Arthropoda can be divided into 18 Classes, excluding the extinct trilobites. The Class Arachnida includes spiders, mites, scorpions, and related animals. The Class Hexapoda (meaning "six-legged") includes the insects.

Order

The Class Arachnida includes 11 orders. Of these, Araneae includes the spiders. Other orders related to Araneae include Scorpiones (scorpions), Acari (mites, chiggers, and ticks), and Opiliones (harvestmen and daddy longlegs).


There are different opinions on the names and numbers of insect orders. For example, some entomologists include Homoptera in the Order Hemiptera, and others regard Homoptera to be a separate order from Hemiptera. We recognize 30 orders of insects.

Family

Each order of insects includes one or more families. For example, Order Zoraptera has only one family, but Order Coleoptera includes 156 families. All families of insects are spelled with "idae" at the end of their names.

Genus

Two or more species that share unique body structures or other characteristics are considered to be closely related and are placed together in a genus (genera is plural). Sometimes a genus might include only a single species if there is nothing else in the world that has similarities with it. The genus is the first part of the scientific name of a species. For the honey bee, Apis mellifera, Apis is the genus. The genus is always spelled with a capital letter. In contrast with family and order names, the genus is either underlined Apis or printed in italics (Apis).

Species

A species can be defined as a group of individuals that breed together to produce fertile offspring. Individuals of a species cannot breed with other such groups. It is sometimes possible for two different species to breed, but the offspring will be sterile. A mule is the sterile offspring of a donkey and a horse, and the mule can never mate and reproduce itself.


A species name is spelled with a lower case letter, and, like the genus, it is also underlined or printed in italics. For the honey bee, Apis mellifera, the specific name " mellifera" is like an adjective that modifies a noun, which is the genus Apis in this case. The way we communicate with scientific names is different from our usual language. If we had a cherry pie and an apple pie, their "scientific" names would be Pie cherrry and Pie apple.

Taxonomy Worksheet (Page 1)

Taxonomy Worksheet (Page 2)

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