Taxonomy Gif

Key to the Orders of Insects

Welcome to the Wonders of Insect Taxonomy and Classification

News Flash :- A New Insect Order Is Discovered
There is much excitement in the entomological world at the moment as a new order of insects has just been discovered. To find out more visit the National Geographic news page.

Firstly have you ever thought about why we name things at all?

If you have you probably realized pretty quickly that names are very important for talking to, and communicating with other people.

They allow you to give the other person quite allot of information about the animal or even plant that you are talking about.

However not everybody uses the same name for the same animal. For instance slaters, cheesybugs and woodlice are all different names for the same animal in different parts of the world.



Because common names can vary so much a scientist called Carl Linnaeus suggested in the 1750's that an international way of naming things be set up so that scientists all over the world could understand each other better.

Read more about Carl Linnaeus

Since then his original binomial (double name) system has been improved by a number of other scientists, and now you can use the proper scientific name for an animal anywhere in the world and other scientists will know what you are talking about.

The science of naming things is called taxonomy and though it can become quite complicated the basics are easy to understand.

All the living things are divided into a series of sets and subsets depending on how closely related they are. For instance all living things are divided into 5 kingdoms These last two are so small you can't see them without a microscope

The living members of the kingdom Animalia are divided into approximately 36 smaller groups called phyla singular phylum.

One of which, the Arthropoda is of particular interest to us. This phylum contains the hard shelled, jointed legged animals and is further divided into four smaller groups called Subphyla or in some classification shemes classes.

They are:

Now the uniramia or insecta are divided into 29 even smaller, though still pretty large groups called orders such as: and lots lots more.
After this we have families, within the order Lepidoptera there are about 90 families; within each family are a number of genera and within each genus are a number of species.

For instance the common European butterfly known as Small Tortoiseshellis is a member of all the following sets:

You should note that most animals and plants are known only by their genus and species names, i.e. the small tortoiseshell is Aglais urticae, note also that while the genus name is spelt with a capital letter the species name is normally spelt with a small letter, and that in printed text the pair are normally written in italics the rest usually remains unsaid. You should also note that though an animal will generally share its genus, family, order and class names etc. with other animals its combination genus/species name will be unique to it.
In some books you may find a persons name or part of a persons name written after the animals name i.e.Euclida glyphica (Linnaeus, 1758) this mean that Linnaeus was the first person to name this moth and that he did so in a work published in 1758, the brackets around his name mean that the species has since been moved to another genus. Linnaeus, being the first person to use this system widely, put a lot of moths in one genus, such as Noctua, and later taxonomists realised that some of them belonged to different genera and moved them, like putting them in a different box. This means that the species was named and described by Linnaeus, but the genus was described later be a different taxonomist. This process is called taxanomic revision. Also you will occasionally see some species written in a shortened for Formica exsecta Nyl., Nyl stands for Nylander and the date is omitted, I personally do not like this, but people do use it, however it is not much use if the reader doesn't know Nyl. or Hb. stands for, and the relevent publication date.

Finally you should know that scientist are still arguing about some of the family, class and order names so these may be different in different books, but until you get to university this is not very important.

Note also that identifying, describing and naming things, i.e. assigning them to particular groups is taxonomy, while arranging those groups in a coherent order which reflects their evolution and relatedness is classification. Another word is Systematics which may be defined as the study of the diversity of organisms and the way they relate to each other, modern Systematics is called Phylogenetic Cladistics and has a whole set of special rules telling you how to do it properly. Cladistics is a good, but young science and like all tools its usefulness reflects the understanding in the mind of the person using it, i.e. not all the results that people using cladistic analyses come to are equally reliable. For more information read the turorial on

Cladistic Analyses



The Class Insecta

The insects being such a large class of organisms their taxonomy and hence their classification can, and in fact does, get extremely complicated, with a large number of people discussing the merits of various taxonomic schemes. The one I have followed here and throughout these pages is from Imms 1984 and is a basically functional if not extremely up to date system.

However at the moment it is important to realise that the greatest use of taxonomy is in the facilitation of communication between workers in similar areas and that the differences between various schemes are fairly unimportant until you know enough to contribute to the argument, a basic understanding of the relationships between various groups of insects can be gained from any basic taxonomic setting.

The 29 insect orders are numbered in an approximate series of evolutionary complexity with the oldest and most primitive groups being listed first. They are further gathered together into a number of groups depending on their degree of relatedness. The numbers to the right of the order name are estimates ( 20 years out of date in most cases but unfortunately the best I have at the moment) of the number of species known from that order in the world, the numbers further to the right represent the numbers for the U.K., and the numbers furthest to the right are from Australia (these are nearly 30 years out of date) if any one would like to supply me with the numbers for other countries I would gladly put them up.

The first four orders are known as the Apterygote orders because all the adults are wingless like the immature stages, these have no true metamorphosis and are the most primitive insects alive today. The other 25 orders are called the Pterygote orders because we believe they wall evolved from winged forms, even those like the Siphonaptera (Fleas) which are all wingless now. these are divided up into 16 Exopterygote orders which have an incomplete metamorphosis (i.e. no pupal stage) and develop their wings outside of their main body, and the Endopterygote orders which undergo a complete metamorphosis including a pupal stage and have their wings develop inside the body which are therefore not visible until the adult insect emerges from the pupa.

Key to the Orders of Insects

The Insect Orders

Taxonomic NameCommon NameNumber WorldwideNumber in the UKNumber in Australia
The Apterygota (Wingless insects with no true metamorphosis at all)
Thysanura3 Pronged Bristletails55925
Diplura2 Pronged Bristletails6001132
The Exopterygota (Hemimetabolous insects with incomplete metamorphosis
Odonata Dragons and Damsels500043248
OrthopteraGrasshoppers20 000331513
EmbiopteraWeb Spinners300065
DictyopteraRoaches and Mantids60004520
PsocopteraBook and Bark Lice200068120
MallophagaBiting Lice2800225186
SiphunculataSucking Lice3006122
HemipteraTrue Bugs100 0001 4103 661
The Endopterygota (Holometabolous insects with complete metamorphosis)
NeuropteraLacewings etc.4 70060412
SiphonapteraFleas1 4005368
ColeopteraBeetles370 0003 70019 219
DipteraTrue Flies100 0005 7006 256
LepidopteraButterflies and Moths150 0002 40011 221
TrichopteraCaddis-flies5 000188260
HymenopteraAnts Bees and Wasps120 000 + 6 700

Useful Books

For North America. The 'How to Know ....' series originally published by Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa, now owned by McGraw-Hill are very good apparently.
For North America. Insects that Feed on Trees and Shrubs by Warner T. Johnson and Howard H. Lyon (Revised 2nd edition)
For North America. The Peterson Guides published by Houghton Mifflin are also very good.
For the UK. The Naturalsits Handbook series are Excellent,
For the UK. The Collins Guides series are quite good.
For New Zealand. The Fauna of New Zealand series are excellent

Taxonomy and Classification on the Web

Expert Center for Taxonomic Identification
The Tree of Life

Book Reviews


The Insects of Australia, A textbook for Students and Research Workers by The Entomology Division of the CSIRO
Systematic and Applied Entomology, An Introduction by I D Naumann (Ed)
Naturalists' Handbook Series 25 Volumes of small relatively cheap good quality books (Very UK oriented)
Peterson Field Guides: Insects, by Donald J. Borror and Richard E. White (For N. America)
Insects a GEM guide by M.Chinery
Backyard Insects Of Australia, by Paul A. Horne and Denis J. Crawford
Name That Insect A Guide to the Insects of Southeastern Australia, by T.R. New.
A Field Guide to Insects of Australia
Insects of Britain and and Northern Europe, by Michael Chinery
Insects of Britain and and Western Europe, by Michael Chinery
American Insects; A Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico, by R. H. Arnett, Jr.


The Geometrid Moths of Europe by Axel Hausmann
The Sesiidae of Europe by Zdenek Lastuvka and Ales Lastuvka
The Butterflies of Papua NewGuinea, by Michael Parsons
The Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland, by A. M. Emmet and J. Heath (Eds)
Field Guide: Butterflies of Southern Africa, by Ivor Migdoll
British Pyralid Moths: a Guide to their Identification, by Barry Goater
The Butterflies of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia , by John Tennent
The Butterflies of Greece, by Lazaros N. Pamperis
The Butterflies of Venezuela, Part 1 , by Andrew F. E. Neild
Peterson Field Guides: Western Butterflies, by J.W. Tilden and Arthur C. Smith (For N. America)
Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Butterflies, by Paul A. Opler and Vichai Malikul (For N. America)
Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Moths, by Charles V. Clovell, Jr (For N. America)
Guide to the butterflies of Russia and adjacent territories (Lepidoptera, Rhopalocera). Volume 1: Hesperiidae, Papilionidae, Pieridae, Satyridae by P. V. Bogdanov, A. L. Devyatkin, L. V. Kabak, V. A. Korolev, V. S. Murzin, G. D. Samodurov, E. A. Tarasov, and V. K. Tuzov.
Catalogus Faunae Bulgaricae. Volume 2. Lepidoptera, Geometridae, by E. Nesterova.
Butterflies of Britain and Europe, text by Tom Tolman illustrated by Richard Lewington.
A colour Identification Guide to Caterpillars of the British Isles, by Jim Porter.
The Butterflies of Costa Rica Vol.1, by Philip J. DeVries
The Butterflies of Costa Rica Vol.2, by Philip J. DeVries
Butterflies and Moths of Britain and Europe, by by H. Hofmann and T. Marktanner
Butterflies and Moths by M. Chinery
Butterflies of Australia 2nd Edition by I.F.B. Common and D.F. Waterhouse
The Butterflies of Kenya and their natural history, by T.B. Larsen
Butterflies of Tanzania, by J. Kielland
Saturniidae Mundi 1, by Bernard D'Abrera
Heterocera Sumatrana 3: The Phycitinae, by Ulrich Roesler
Heterocera Sumatrana 4:The Thyatiridae, Agaristidae, and Noctuidae (part 1: Pantheinae and Catocalinae), by L.W.R.Kobes
Oecophorine Genera of Australia 1, by Ian F. B. Common
Oecophorine Genera of Australia 11, by Ian F. B. Common
Carcasson's African Butterflies , by P.R. Ackery, C.R.Smith and R.I. Vane-Wright (Eds)


World Catalogue of insects. Volume 2. Hydrophiloidea by Michael Hansen
Fauna of New Zealand No.37. Coleoptera : family-group review and keys to identification. By J. Klimaszewski and J. C. Watt.
Peterson Field Guides: Beetles, by Richard E. White
Field Guide to Northeastern Longhorned Beetles (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae), Illinois Natural History Survey Manual 6, by Douglas Yanega.
IIE Guides to Insects of Importance to Man 3. Coleoptera, by R.G. Booth, M.L. Cox and R.B. Madge
Naturalists' Handbook Series 3 Relevent volumes, one on Weevils, one on Ground Beetles and one on Ladybirds (Very UK oriented)
A checklist of the ground-beetles of Russia and adjacent lands (Insecta, Coleoptera, Carabidae) by O. L. Kryzhanovskij, I. A. Belousov, I. I. Kabak, B. M. Kataev, K.V.Makarov, V.G.Shilenkov
Catalogue of the ground-beetles of Bulgaria (Coleoptera: Carabidae) by V. B. Gueorguiev and B. V. Gueorguiev
Reclassification of world Dyschiriini with a revision of the Palearctic fauna (Coleoptera, Carabidae) by D. N. Fedorenko
Click Beetles Genera of the Australian Elateridae, by Andrew A. Calder


Bibliographia Trichopterorum. A world bibliography of Trichoptera (Insecta) with indexes. Volume 1. 1961-1970 by Andrew P. Nimmo.


Naturalists' Handbook Series 1 Relevent volume, on Mayflies by J. Harker (Very UK oriented)
Fauna of New Zealand No.36. Leptophlebiidae (Insecta: Ephemeroptera) By D.R.Towns and W.L. Peters


The Dragonflies of Great Britain and Ireland (Second edition), by C. O. Hammond (Revised by R. Merrit)
Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland, by Steve Brooks illustrated by Richard Lewington
Naturalists' Handbook Vol. 7 :- Dragonflies by Peter Miller
Atlas of the dragonflies of Britain and Ireland, by Merrit, R., Moore, N.W. and Eversham, B.C.


Aphids on the Worlds Crops by R.L. Blackman and V.F. Eastop
True Bugs of the World (Hemiptera, Heteroptera) Classification and Natural History, by Randall T Schuh and James A Slater
Fauna of New Zealand No.35. Cydnidae Acanthosomatidae Pentatomidae (Insecta: Heteroptera) By M.-C. Lariviere


Stick Insects of Britain, Europe and the Mediterranean by Paul Brock.


Grasshoppers and allied Insects of Great Britain and Ireland, by Judith Marshall and E. C. M. Haes.
No.3 Grasshoppersby Valerie K. Brown (Very UK oriented)
Grasshopper Country, by David Rentz


Naturalists' Handbook Series Vol. 5 Hoverflies by Francis Gilbert (Very UK oriented)
Naturalists' Handbook Vol.14 :- Mosquitos by Keith R. Snow (Very UK oriented)
Naturalists' Handbook Series Volume 23, on Blowflies by Z. Erzinçlioglu (Very UK oriented)


Fauna Bulgarica. Volume 25. Hymenoptera, Ichneumonidae. Part 1. Pimplinae, Xoridinae, Acaeninae, Collyriinae, by Ya. Kolarov.
Naturalists' Handbook Series 3 Relevent volumes so far, one on Bumblebees, one on Solitary wasps and one on Ants (Very UK oriented)


Thysanoptra: An Identification Guide (2nd edition), by W. A Maund and G Kibbly
Naturalists' Handbook Series 1 Relevent volume, so far Thrips by W. D. J. Kirk (Very UK oriented)



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