MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: Why do some insects have wings and some do not?

Date: Wed Oct 4 10:52:38 2000
Posted By: David Richman, Staff, Entomology
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 970188802.Zo

     There are three different types of insects that lack wings.   
Immature insects never have wings because they have not developed yet.  
Most of these need only to feed and grow so the eggs are usually laid by 
the parent insect in an area where the growing larvae will have food. 
Wings either develop slowly as the immature insect grows (as in 
grasshoppers and other insects with incomplete development) or develop 
during a pupal stage (as in butterflies).  The adult then has functioning 
wings, which allow it to disperse, mate and lay eggs in a new area. 

Some primitive insects never had wings. These include such flightless insects as silverfish. None of the ancestors of these insects seem to have had wings.

Finally there are those insects that have secondarily lost wings or have reduced wing size to the point where that cannot fly. These include some grasshoppers, many parasitic insects (like lice and fleas), a number of beetles and even some moths (the bagworm for example). The ancestors of these insects had wings, but their ultimate life style did not require flight. Selection pressure then probably eliminated the ability to fly. In the case of parasitic insects at least, wings may even have been a major difficulty and were probably eliminated rather quickly. Wings would probably catch on the host's hairs or feathers and make it difficult to hide.


Borror, D. J., C. A. Triplehorn, and N. F. Johnson. 1989. An Introduction to the Study of Insects. Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia.

A summary of the answer is that some insects don't have wings because

1. They are immature and do not need them yet.

2. Their ancestors never had wings.

3. They lost their wings because of the way in which they live (for example parasites).

Current Queue | Current Queue for Zoology | Zoology archives

Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Zoology.

MadSci Home | Information | Search | Random Knowledge Generator | MadSci Archives | Mad Library | MAD Labs | MAD FAQs | Ask a ? | Join Us! | Help Support MadSci

MadSci Network,
© 1995-2000. All rights reserved.