Taxonomy of insects

With the number of insect species in the world it is critical to have a system for organising them. Taxonomy (from the Greek taxon meaning “arrangement”) is the science responsible for this and we will frequently refer to different taxonomic ranks in describing our featured insects.

Taxonomists are scientists concerned with organising living things into different groups and figuring out how those groups relate to one another. Organisms are sorted into nested groups based on evolutionary relationships and physical characteristics (see Fig. 1 for a full example of the taxonomy for one species). For example, insects have segmented bodies and an exoskeleton (rather an an internal skeleton like us). This makes them part of the phylum Arthropoda, along with crustaceans. Insects are also animals and therefore fit into the much larger grouping, or “kingdom”, called”Animalia”.

Alternatively, we could be more specific about what sort of insect we’re talking about. Insects can be divided into several “orders” including things like Coleoptera (beetles) and Hemiptera (true bugs). Words like “family”, “phylum”, “genus”, “species” and “kingdom” describe different taxonomic ranks at which to organise living things.

The deck will feature 15 different orders of insects although globally some contain far more species than others and for this reason some orders are represented multiple times. In particular, the five most diverse orders both in the world and in the deck are the Coleoptera (beetles), Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps), Hemiptera (cicadas and “true bugs”), and Diptera (flies).


Fig. 1 The Red Fox shares the same Domain and Kingdom as insects but is part of the phylum “Chordata” rather than “Arthropoda”as is the case with insects. Annina Breen, Taxonomic Rank Graph, CC BY-SA 4.0