A wasp sits on a flower
A cicada killer wasp collects nectar from a flower

NPS Photo

What is an insect?

Insects are a class of invertebrates that possess similar features. Every insect has a head, a thorax and an abdomen. The head includes eyes, antennae, and mouth. The thorax is the middle body segment and includes wings and six jointed legs. The abdominal area includes the heart, digestive tract, and reproductive organs. These features differentiate them from arachnids, the family that contains spiders and scorpions. Arachnids have only two body parts and eight legs.

There are believed to be about 3,000 different kinds of insects on Earth, more than all of the plant and animal species combined! Insects make up 80% of the earth’s animals. Only about 1% of the insects on earth are actually harmful to people.

A darkling beetle with its head near the ground and it rear in the air
A darkling beetle does a "hand stand" in the sand.

NPS Photo/Kobinsky

Darkling Beetle

The darkling beetle is the common name of the large family of beetles Tenebrionidae. It ranges from southern British Columbia to northern Mexico and east to Texas, Kansas and Wyoming. The diet of the darkling beetle includes dead plant and animal material, roots, and seeds. These flightless, mid-sized beetles are usually colored blackish, dark brown or gray, and often have a satiny sheen. The larvae of darkling beetles are an important food source for certain invertebrates and small mammals. Adults have slow metabolisms, and live long lives compared to other insects, ranging from approximately six months to two years. When threatened, they will thrust their abdomen into the air and release a noxious chemical.

A tarantula hawk wasp killing a tarantula
A tarantula hawk wasp with it's prey

NPS Photo

Tarantula Hawk Wasp

The tarantula hawk is one of the largest parasitic wasps, using their sting to paralyze their prey before dragging it to a brood nest as living food. The female tarantula hawk wasp stings tarantulas between the legs, paralyzing it, then drags the prey to a specially prepared burrow. There, a single egg is laid on the spider's abdomen and the entrance is covered. When the wasp larva hatches, it creates a small hole in the spider's abdomen to enter and feed, avoiding vital organs for as long as possible in order to keep the spider alive. Once the wasp becomes an adult, it emerges from the spider's abdomen. Adult tarantula hawks feed on nectar. While they are not very aggressive, their sting is extraordinarily painful. In 1989, New Mexico designated the tarantula hawk wasp to be its official state insect.


Last updated: October 20, 2022

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