Word Wednesday: Insect Orders

Insects are a fascinating part of biology, and are some of the most abundant and misunderstood organisms on Earth. Scientists who study insects are called entomologists.

Entomology (n)

Entomology breaks down easily into two parts: entom and –logyEntom comes from the Greek word ‘entomon‘ meaning insect and we already know that logy comes from the Greek word logia which means ‘the study of’. Therefore, entomology, as you probably expected, means the study of insects.

There is much dispute, but scientists recognize between 27 and 31 orders of insects. Some of these orders are more common than others, and they offer a great introduction into scientific terminology. Here are nine of the most common, and also some of my favorites!


Ephemeroptera breaks down into ephemero and –pteraEphemero comes from the Greek word ‘ephemeros‘ meaning short-lived and ptera comes from the Greek word ‘pteron‘ meaning wing. Therefore, ephemeroptera refers to adult insects that are short-lived and winged. An example of this is the mayfly. Adult mayflies only live long enough to reproduce and don’t even have mouths!


Odonata doesn’t need to be broken down. It comes from the Greek word ‘odontos‘ meaning tooth. This refers to the teeth on the lower jaw of these insects; however, this is not actually a good identifier as many different types of insects have toothed jaws. Odonata includes dragonflies and damselflies and is one of my favorite insect orders!


Orthoptera breaks down into ortho and pteraOrtho is the Greek word for straight and ptera, like I mentioned before, means wings. Therefore, Orthoptera means straight wings. Orthoptera includes grasshoppers, locusts and crickets. Interestingly, locusts and other Orthoptera are the only insects that are considered kosher.


Phasmida comes from the Greek word phasma which means phantom. This refers to stick insects’ ability to blend in to their surroundings. Stick insects make good pets and many species don’t need males in order to reproduce.


Hemiptera breaks down into hemi and -ptera. Hemi is a Greek word meaning half and ptera means wing. This refers to the order’s characteristic wings that are hardened at the base, leaving only half a wing. These insects are the true bugs and include cicadas, aphids and leafhoppers. Not all insects are bugs, but all bugs are insects.


Coleoptera breaks down into coleo and ptera. Coleo comes from the Greek word ‘koleos’ which means sheath and ptera  means wing. Therefore, Coleoptera means sheathed wing insects, which describes beetles perfectly. Their hard shells protect their wings. In other words, ladybugs and june bugs aren’t actually bugs, they’re beetles!


Diptera breaks down into di and pteraDi is a Greek word meaning two and ptera means wing. Ergo, Diptera describes insects with two wings: the true flies. This includes fuit flies, which are used as a model organism in genetics experiments.


Lepidoptera breaks down into lepido and pteraLepido comes from the Greek word ‘lepis‘ which means scale and ptera means wing. Lepidoptera includes moths and butterflies and the name refers to the small scales on their wings. They are also known for their proboscis, a straw-like mouth used to suck up nectar.


Hymenoptera breaks down into hymeno and ptera. Hymen is a Greek word meaning membrane and ptera means wing. Hymenoptera describes the thin, membranous wings of wasps, bees and ants, and is one of the largest insect orders.

Some insect orders have more descriptive names than others. Regardless, understanding what the names mean can make it easier to understand other words later on. To learn more about insect orders, check out the links below!

Insect Orders-Department of Entomology-Texas A&M University

Etymology Online: Entomology

Etymology Online: Coleoptera

Etymology Online: Lepidoptera

Etymology Online: Hymenoptera


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