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To be or not to be ... an insect

1-To be or not to be... an insect

Close cousins
The real insect
Insect words

2-Insects and popular wisdom
3-Close-up on insects
4-Home sweet home
5-Multi-talented actors

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Insects under the spotlight

Insects weren’t born yesterday! In fact, they’ve been around for more than 350 million years. Today, there are over one million known species, in a huge number of different habitats. That’s more than all other animal species combined. And we haven’t finished counting, for it’s estimated that there are still some seven to ten million species yet to be discovered.

Insects are invertebrates that have an "exoskeleton." This external skeleton is a sort of "shell" that supports and protects them. They belong to the same group of arthropods as myriapods, crustaceans and spiders. This means that centipedes, wood lice and spiders are not insects. So how can you know which is an insect and which isn’t? Insects' bodies are always divided into three segments: a head, with a pair of antennae, a thorax, with six legs and one or two pairs of wings, and an abdomen.


Centipedes and millipedes are myriapods. They have a pair of antennae on their heads. On their bodies are at least 10 pairs of legs—one pair of legs per segment for centipedes, and two pairs for millipedes. Centipedes hunt smaller insects beneath rocks and tree bark, while millipedes like damp places and feed mostly on decomposing plant material.

Wood lice belong to the crustacean family, a group that includes crabs, lobsters and shrimps. Unlike most of their fellow crustaceans, wood lice are not aquatic, but instead prefer damp places like caves or rotting logs. Crustaceans have two pairs of antennae and a variable number of appendages. Their bodies generally consist of a cephalothorax (combined head and thorax) and an abdomen.

Arachnids’ bodies usually have two segments (a combined head and thorax, and an abdomen) and eight legs. They never have wings or antennae. Spiders possess a pair of venomous fang-like appendages and a pair of palps, not to be confused with legs. Daddy long-legs look like spiders, but have no venomous appendages and their head, thorax and abdomen are fused together. These two groups of arachnids are land animals.


Only one of these little animals is an insect. Circle it.

 cinq imposteurs

 Click here for the solutions



To spark your group’s interest, talk with participants about how to tell insects apart from other animals.
  • Ask them to draw an insect, based on what they know now.
  • Then photocopy and hand out the page with the illustrations, and suggest that participants complete the activity.
  • Help them check their answers, using the information in this leaflet.
  • Continue the discussion, and ask them to identify the other arthropods.
  • Ask them to compare their drawings with the illustrations for this activity.
  • Then ask them to draw the different arthropods from memory, or to colour in the illustrations.


Studying insects up close

Daytime, nighttime, at the water’s edge or in a forest clearing... you can find insects anywhere, anytime. Here are some tips.

Grab a notebook, a pencil and a magnifying glass. Then go outside and start looking. Insects aren’t that hard to find. Check under a rock, on the sidewalk, in the grass. Warm weather is when insects are most active, but you can see them even in winter. Take a close look at what you’ve found and describe it in your notebook. Is it really an insect? What special features does it have? What is it doing? Where does it live? What does it eat? You can use a pocket guide to help you identify what you’ve found.

When you’re out hunting, remember to obey the entomologist’s code: don’t disturb the surroundings, and put any stones and logs, and insects as well, back where you found them.



Click here for the solutions



Will the real insect please stand up?

A: centipede

B: ant (this one is the insect!)

C: wood louse

D: spider

E: daddy long-legs

F: millipede




Insect words


1. maggot

2. pupa

3. wasp

4. larva

5. chrysalis

6. diapause

7. class

8. abdomen

9. grub

10. insect



11. arthropods

12. egg

13. exoskeleton

14. thorax

15. nymph

16. legs

17. metamorphosis

18. order

19. entomologist

20. wings

21. adult

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ConceptInsectarium de Montréal French text: Marie Dufour Translations: Terry Knowles and Pamela Ireland
 Illustrations: Bruno Laporte Graphics: Studio multimédia, Ville de Montréal
This project has received financial support from the Action Environnement et Faune program
Our thanks to everyone who helped in producing this educational material
Web site originally designed by: Stéphan Giroux