I have been an amateur entomologist ever since tenth grade biology when we were required to create an insect collection. Today myself and my wife maintain this interest in our ultimate lifetime goal of collecting at least one representative species from each of the ~673 families that comprise the Nearctic (North America north of Mexico) distribution of insects. At the time of writing this page, we have collected 69 families (several hundred specimens), so we are well on our way. This page serves as an introduction to the fascinating class Insecta (as well as other arthropods), primarily from a morphological/taxonomic perspective. Most of the groups we present here are those that we have collected or encountered ourselves. Stay tuned for updates!
Arthropods have been around since the Cambrian Period 600 million years ago. This highly successful group of animals has since come to dominate both terrestrial and aquatic environments, the land going to the insects and spiders, and the sea to the crustaceans. The group as a whole is a member (along with nematodes and a few other small phyla) of the superphylum Ecdysozoa, meaning "animals that shed their exoskeleton". It is no surprise, then, that one of the defining characteristics of arthropods is their ability to shed and replace the chitinous shell that protects the body as the animal grows. This distinguishes them from the other large subphylum of invertebrates, the Lophotrochozoa ("crest-bearing animals"), which includes the segmented worms (Annelida), flatworms (Platyhelminthes), clams, snails, squid and kin (Mollusca), and the Rotifera. These animals maintain one shell their whole lives, if they possess one at all. Arthropods are also segmented, usually with two or three grouped regions, with paired, segmented appendages (from which the phylum gets its name). There are four extant subphyla (Trilobites went extinct long ago): the Crustaceans, which includes crabs, pillbugs, lobsters and their relatives; the Myriapods, including centipedes and millipedes; the Chelicerates, such as spiders and their kin; and the Hexapods, which includes the insects.
The majority of the information presented in this section of the site is taken directly from Borror and DeLong's Introduction to the Study of Insects, 7th Ed., an invaluable resource for the classification and identification of insects and spiders of Nearctica.