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SPECTRUM AND SPECTROSCOPE (Part 1 of 3)   Leave a comment

From earliest times the rainbow had delighted and puzzled observers. Men invented myths to explain the beautiful arc of multicoloured light that appeared after the rain. But a scientific answer to the puzzle of the rainbow did not come until 1666. In that year Sir Isaac Newton began investigating the problem of eliminating the colour fringes in telescope lenses. (Scientists now call these colour fringes chromatic aberration.) He decided that the trouble might lie in the character of light itself. So he began to study how light formed colours

He admitted a small beam of sunlight into a darkened room and passed it through a prism. The beam produced a band of colours just like the rainbow, ranging from red through yellow, green, and blue to violet. He then passed each of these colours through other prisms and found that they did not change. But when he passed the whole band of coloured lights through a prism in reverse position, the coloured band became white sunlight again.

From this he reasoned that white light is really a mixture of coloured lights, and that each colour is bent by a different amount when it passes through the prism. This difference in bending enables each colour to stand out separately and be visible. The band of coloured lights thus formed is called a spectrum. The rainbow is actually a spectrum, formed by sunlight passing through raindrops.

Separating light into its colours is called dispersion. It is accomplished by refraction (bending) of light in the prism. Each of the colours has its own wavelength. The wavelength determines how much each colour will bend. Red bends the least, violet the most. If the light beam strikes the prism at a certain angle, the amount of bending for each colour is always the same. Each colour then falls in exactly the same place on a screen, so its position is enough to identify it.

Scientists use the dispersive action of the prism in the spectroscope. The spectroscope reveals that the spectral pattern of light is different for various classes of light sources. Light from the sun, from certain lamp filaments, and from molten metals each produces a spectrum which has all colours in an unbroken array. Such a pattern is called a continuous spectrum. Incandescent gases give off only certain colours, in fine lines. Their spectra are called bright-line spectra. Both bright-line and continuous spectra are emission spectra, produced by emitted light.

Fraunhofer, Joseph von (1787-1826), German optician and physicist; worked to improve optical instruments; invented a heliometer and a micrometer.

In the early 1800s Joseph von Fraunhofer observed that the continuous spectrum was crossed by many dark lines. He charted more than 700 of them, but he was unable to explain their meaning. Because of his discovery, however, they are called Fraunhofer lines.

Kirchhoff, Gustav Robert (1824-87), German physicist, born in Konigsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia); developed spectrum analysis and discovered caesium and rubidium (with Bunsen); explained the Fraunhofer lines; professor of physics at Heidelberg 1854-74, at Berlin 1874-87.

The meaning of the Fraunhofer lines was discovered about 50 years later by Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen. With a spectroscope they studied the spectra of certain substances which were vaporized in the non luminous Bunsen burner flame. Each vapour showed a characteristic bright-line spectrum. But when emitted light was passed through a cooler vapour of the same substance, the bright lines were replaced by dark ones in the same position.

This replacement of bright by dark lines meant that the second vapour had absorbed the characteristic light of the first. Later experiments showed that the cooler vapour absorbs those light waves which it would normally emit at a higher temperature. In 1859 Kirchhoff published his findings in his laws of radiation and absorption. The spectral pattern thus formed is called a dark-line, or absorption, spectrum.

Kirchhoff and Bunsen also noticed that characteristic arrays of lines are given off by the different chemical elements. For example, incandescent sodium always gives certain yellow lines near the middle of the spectrum, and no other element gives these lines. Thus when these lines appear, sodium must be present in the incandescent substance. If the lines are bright the light has come directly from the incandescent sodium. If they are dark the light has passed, somewhere along its path, through an absorbing vapour containing some gaseous sodium. Only minute quantities of an element are needed to make its lines appear. This makes it possible to identify the elements in unknown substances.

These discoveries not only explained the Fraunhofer lines in the spectrum of sunlight but made it possible to determine what chemical elements the sun contains. The absorption necessary to produce the dark lines was considered as taking place in the outer layers of incandescent gas surrounding the sun. For “analysis” of the sun, the dark lines could be compared with the bright-line spectra of different elements produced in the laboratory. Whenever they corresponded, scientists could be sure that the element existed in the sun. Stars likewise could be “analysed” as to chemical contents by this method.

Janssen, Pierre-Jules-Cesar (1824-1907), French astronomer, born in Paris; discoverer of helium in sun; founded and directed observatory on Mont Blanc 1893.

Lockyer, Joseph Norman (1836-1920), British astronomer and physicist, born in Rugby, England; pioneer in application of spectroscope to sun and stars; explained sunspots; between 1870 and 1905 conducted eight British expeditions for observing total solar eclipses (‘The Sun’s Place in Nature’; ‘Recent and Coming Eclipses’; ‘The Chemistry of the Sun’; ‘Inorganic Evolution’).

Ramsay, William (1852-1916), British chemist, born in Glasgow, Scotland; professor Bristol University 1880-87, University of London 1887-1913; discoverer of helium, neon, krypton, xenon; co-discoverer of argon; research in radioactivity led to new theory of transmutation of elements; knighted 1902; received 1904 Nobel prize.

Cleveite, mineral, oxide of uranium and lead; named for Per Theodor Cleve, a Swedish chemist; produces helium when heated with acid.

Scientists have obtained spectra corresponding to the different elements and have measured and charted every line. When they wish to learn the composition of a star, they photograph its spectrum and then check the lines against these charts for the elements. A notable triumph of the method was the discovery of helium. In 1868 P.J.C. Janssen (1824-1907), a French astronomer, and the English astronomer, Sir Norman Lockyer (1836-1920), independently discovered lines in the solar spectrum which could not be identified with the charted lines of any known element. Lockyer interpreted this to mean that an element unknown to us existed in the sun. He named it helium, after helios, Greek for “sun.” Then in 1895 Sir William Ramsay (1852-1916) found that the Norwegian mineral cleveite, when heated, gave off minute quantities of a light gas which he identified as helium by means of its spectrum.

Measuring Light Waves

Millimicron (mm), unit of wave length equal to one millionth of a millimetre or one thousandth of a micron; sometimes used in the measurement of light waves.

Angstrom unit (A, or A.U.), ten-millionth of a millimetre, used to describe length of light waves; named to honour Anders Jonas Angstrom.

Nanometre (nm), measuring unit in spectroscopy, equalling one billionth of a meter.

The units once commonly used to measure wavelengths were the millimicron, denoted by the symbol mm and equalling one millionth of a millimetre; and the Angstrom unit (A or A.U.), one ten millionth of a millimetre Wavelengths are still measured in various units, but the unit most commonly used in spectroscopic work today is the nanometre (nm), which is equal in length to the unit it replaced, the millimicron. This is one of the special units which science has accepted as a means of avoiding the excessively long decimal fractions which would be needed to express wavelengths as short as those of light, if measured in inches or centimetres For example, violet light has a wavelength of 410 nanometres. The following table gives the wavelengths which fall approximately in the centre of each of the coloured regions in visible light:

Violet 410 nanometres

Blue 470

Green 520

Yellow 570

Orange 620

Red 710

Since the colour of light is determined by its wavelength, this means that the shorter the wavelength the more the light is bent by passage through a given prism. Thus the wavelength (and the frequency) of the vibration causing the wave is judged from the amount of bending given by the prism. This is determined by the position of the spectral line on the screen or photographic plate.

Prism and Diffraction-Grating Spectroscopes

Modern spectroscopes used in very technical fields vary considerably in function and design and are often quite specialized for the specific substances they analyse However, the fundamental teaching instruments generally used in today’s classrooms are the relatively simple prism spectroscopes. These consist of a collimator (tube for admitting light), a glass prism, and a telescope. The collimator has a slit at one end to admit light and a lens on the other to concentrate it. The lens directs the light on the prism, which disperses the ray into its component colours Sometimes a train of prisms is used to increase the dispersion.

After the colours leave the prism they are focused on the object glass of the telescope. Each wavelength appears as a separate image of the collimator slit. When the telescope is replaced by a camera to photograph the lines, the device is called a spectrograph.

Rowland, Henry Augustus (1848-1901), U.S. physicist, born in Honesdale, Pa.; professor Johns Hopkins University 25 years; determined ohm and the mechanical equivalent of heat; discovered magnetic effect of electric convection.

A more powerful type of spectroscope uses a diffraction grating, invented by Fraunhofer in 1821. He made it by twisting a fine wire about two tiny screws. With it he measured the wavelengths of light with surprising precision. The modern precision grating consists of a plate of speculum metal or glass upon which fine lines, equidistant and parallel, have been ruled. Among the finest of these are the gratings made by H. A. Rowland. He invented a machine to rule the entire grating automatically, etching from 14,000 to 20,000 lines per 1 inch (2.5 centimetres). By means of such a grating, made on a concave surface, Rowland secured a spectrum band of sunlight more than 20 feet (6 meters) long. The grating uses a special application of the interference phenomenon of light.

Diffraction-grating spectroscopes can measure the wavelength of light with a precision of .000,000,000,001 centimetre (10-12 centimetre). It is used as the dispersing medium in analysing visible light and ultraviolet rays. A photographic plate is usually used as the detecting device in the analysis.

Motion, Temperature, Magnetism

Doppler effect, law in physics discovered by Christian Doppler (1803-53); applied to sound, light, and radar from moving sources.

The spectroscope can also tell the astronomer whether a star is moving toward or away from the Earth by means of a phenomenon known as the Doppler effect. Everyone has noticed how the whistle of an approaching locomotive rises to a shrill note as it approaches then drops to a lower and lower tone as the train rushes away. The reason for this is that when the train approaches, its whistle is nearer to us each time a sound wave is emitted. The successive waves reach us a little more quickly and therefore have a higher pitch. When the train is receding, the waves are dragged out, and thus the pitch of the whistle is lowered.

Similarly, when a star moves toward the Earth, each light wave is shortened a little. Consequently, the lines shift their position toward the violet end of the star’s spectrum. When the star is moving away from the Earth, the wavelengths are lengthened somewhat, and the lines in the spectrum shift a little toward the red end. The amount of shift reveals the speed of the star’s motion; but since light in a vacuum travels at the tremendous speed of 186,282 miles per second (299,743 kilometres per second), the star must be travelling at a very great speed to create a noticeable effect.

Temperature, degree of hotness or coldness measured on a definite scale.

Temperature and pressure have certain effects on spectra. These effects can be detected and used to determine the approximate temperature of stars and the pressure of gases on distant bodies.

Zeeman, Pieter (1865-1943), Dutch physicist; professor physics and director Physical Institute, University of Amsterdam, 1900-35; discovered the Zeeman effect of magnetism on light; Nobel prize 1902.

Another marvellous revelation of the spectroscope is the connection between magnetism and light. In 1896 the Dutch physicist Pieter Zeeman (1865-1943) discovered that when light passed through the field of a strong electromagnet, the lines in the resulting spectrum were split into two or more lines. This influence of magnetism on light, which was named the Zeeman effect after its discoverer, has proved to be valuable in the detection and measurement of magnetism in the sun.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

The coloured lights in the rainbow make up but a small portion of that huge spectrum of energy called electromagnetic radiation. The other groups include radio waves, microwaves, infra red light (heat), ultraviolet rays, X rays, and gamma rays. Despite the different effects they produce, each of these forms of energy travels through space as an electromagnetic disturbance. They are sometimes called forms of radiant energy.


Posted 2012/01/08 by Stelios in Education

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SPECTRUM AND SPECTROSCOPE (Part 2 of 3)   Leave a comment


Study of the lines in various spectra has helped build the modern theory of matter. Soon after Bunsen and Kirchhoff developed the use of spectral lines as a means of chemical analysis, scientists thought that the various lines were given off by atoms vibrating at different rates under the stimulus of heat. They believed that the faster vibrations resulted in the shorter waves that caused lines to appear toward the violet end of the spectrum.


Rydberg, Johannes Robert (1854-1919), Swedish physicist; worked on the spectrum.


In 1885 Johann Jakob Balmer (1825-98) discovered through experimentation that the various rates of vibration in a mass of glowing hydrogen bore a simple mathematical relation to each other. This indicated that some one type of “mechanism” was at work at varying rates within the hydrogen atom, giving off the different wavelengths. Balmer could not guess what this “mechanism” might be, however. Then Johannes Robert Rydberg (1854-1919) introduced further information on this subject and developed a formula named for him that described many more observed relations; but he also did not know what it was within the atom that vibrated. Finally, the answer came in 1913 from Niels Bohr (1885-1962), the renowned Danish physicist.


Bohr’s theory, built largely upon knowledge from the study of radioactivity, held that the hydrogen atom consisted of an electron revolving like a planet around a central nucleus, or “sun.” Bohr believed further that as an atom absorbed energy by being heated, for example this orbit would enlarge by definite amounts, each enlargement representing the absorption of one quantum, or “packet,” of energy. When energy was emitted, as in the form of light, the electron would fall by steps into inner orbits, and the frequency of the light would depend upon how many orbits were traversed. If the electron fell inward by one orbit, the “energy splash” resulting from this would travel outward as light of a certain frequency. If it fell inward by two orbits, light of a different frequency would go forth. The collection of lines given by hydrogen in a spectroscope sums up these actions taking place in all the hydrogen atoms present. Furthermore, by using the Planck constant (the fundamental measurement of a quantum) and electrical factors in a formula of the Rydberg type, Bohr was able to reduce his whole explanation to terms of electrical force. Thus the spectrum of hydrogen was explained as the product of electrical forces within the atom, and the spectroscope became useful for studying the structure of matter.


Another significant discovery was that X rays could be made to give spectra just as visible light did. This was done by causing a beam of X rays to fall upon a crystal. The short rays of the X rays were diffracted in a pattern that revealed the arrangement of atoms in the crystal.

SPECTRUM AND SPECTROSCOPE (Part 3 of 3)   Leave a comment

Moseley, Henry Gwyn-Jeffreys (1887-1915), British physicist, born in Weymouth, England; gave his name to the Moseley number.

In 1913 and 1914 the English physicist H.G.J. Moseley (1887-1915) announced the discovery of far-reaching relations among X rays produced from the surfaces of different metals by the impact of electrons. He found that each metal gives certain groups of X-ray lines, corresponding to certain frequencies. As he passed from a lighter to a heavier metal, each successive element showed lines of higher frequencies. Moseley reasoned that this was not due to increasing atomic weight, since several substances of different atomic weights showed the same spectra. It must have been due to a regular increase in the number of orbiting electrons, corresponding to the atomic number, of the atoms of the metals. Moseley’s work provided the basis for the modern periodic classification of elements.

Modern Applications

Spectroscopes are used in almost every technical field, especially for identifying constituents and processes in any source that emits light. In some industries many similar samples must be analysed quickly and simultaneously for their light-absorbing characteristics. A physician may have several hundred samples of blood serum to analyse in a short period of time. Fortunately, fully automated analytical spectroscopes are available. New techniques of analysing samples based on how they absorb radiation to differing extents have given scientists new ways to determine a substance’s properties. Infra-red spectroscopy, ultraviolet spectroscopy, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy are the most commonly used of such techniques.

In the 20th century, scientists discovered that all atomic particles behave as if they had wavelengths much like those of light waves. Spectroscopes were used to study these particles. The study of the various elementary particles themselves is divided into baryon and meson spectroscopy, and elementary-particle spectrometers are used for such studies. One of the accomplishments of neutron spectroscopy, another field, was the plotting of the structure of large complex molecules like those of DNA and RNA, the basic materials of heredity. Furthermore, spectroscopes are used to measure temperatures in controlled thermonuclear fusion.

INSECTS (Part 1 of 2).   Leave a comment

The total number of people, plants, and animals in the world is smaller than the total number of insects in the world.

Although over 800,000 insects have been described and named, there are still so many different kinds of insects on earth that scientists have named fewer than half of them. There are so many insects around us because insects are able to stay alive under many different conditions.

The world’s most abundant creatures are the insects, whose known species outnumber all the other animals and the plants combined. Insects have been so successful in their fight for life that they are sometimes described as the human race’s closest rivals for domination of the Earth. Entomologists, the scientists who study insects, have named almost 1,000,000 species perhaps less than one third of the total number.

Many kinds of insects are very adaptable. This means that they can live in almost any kind of weather and eat almost any type of food and still survive.

The most adaptable insects are usually small, require little food, and produce many young in a very short time. It is hard for humans to get rid of these insects. One example of a highly adaptable insect is the common cockroach, which can be found all over the world.

Insects thrive in almost any habitat where life is possible. Some are found only in the Arctic regions, and some live only in deserts. Others thrive only in fresh water or only in brackish water. Many species of insects are able to tolerate both freezing and tropical temperatures. Such hardy species are often found to range widely over the Earth. Few insects, however, inhabit marine environments. Small size, relatively minor food requirements, and rapid reproduction have all aided in perpetuating the many species of insects.

Many insects are parasites. Parasites cannot stay alive by themselves. They must live off the body of another organism, called the host.

The parasite stays alive by using the host’s body for food, water, warmth, and protection. Sooner or later, the parasites take so much from the host that they cause the host to die. An insect parasite may spend all or only part of its life inside a host.

Certain parasitic insects spend much of their lives on or within the body of an animal host, where all the comforts of life food, moisture, warmth, protection from enemies are optimal. Other kinds of insects spend all or some part of their lives securely enclosed in a food plant.

Rain, wind, cold, or human activity can quickly endanger insects. When insects are in trouble, they can:

  • fly, swim, or run away,

  • use their mouths or legs for fighting,

  • squirt poison at their enemies,

  • make themselves look bigger or smaller,

  • blend into the ground or plants around them,


  • use protective armour or spines.

Some species have become remarkably versatile in order to meet the changing demands of the environment. Various water bugs and water beetles are able to fly and swim, as well as crawl. Many types of insects, such as the bees, ants, and wasps depend on a complex social structure and defensive behaviour Non-predatory species frequently have special defences, such as an unpleasant taste or odour, venomous spines, or camouflage.

Insect numbers are kept down by sudden weather changes and by the creatures that eat them. Birds, fish, bats, spiders, and many other forms of life depend on insects for their food. In some areas, a very cold winter will kill many insects that would otherwise multiply in the spring.

Although they are adaptable and versatile as a group, insects are often unable to adjust to unusual weather conditions. Excessive rain, an unusually early frost, an extended drought these and other weather extremes can quickly wipe out or drastically reduce insect populations in a region. Because insects are an important item in the diet of many other animals birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, as well as other insects the number is constantly held in check.

The total of all factors unfavourable to insect survival is overwhelming; thus, in some species, out of hundreds of eggs laid by a single female, seldom do more than a few individuals reach adulthood. The survival of some species is enhanced by the large numbers of eggs laid.


Despite their diversity, all adult insects share some basic external and internal anatomical features. Insects are distinguished from other members of the animal kingdom by having six legs; one pair of antennae; a ringed, or segmented, body; and three well-defined body regions. It is from the joined body rings, or segments, that insects derived their name, for the Latin word insecta means “segmented.”

Many creatures closely resemble insects and are often mistaken for them for instance, spiders and scorpions, which have eight legs; centipedes, which have dozens of legs; and mites and ticks, which have sac-like bodies unbroken by segments. The name bug refers to certain insects with piercing and sucking mouth-parts but is also commonly applied to insects in general.

External Anatomy

The three main sections of an insect body are the head; the middle section, or thorax; and the hind section, or abdomen. The body is covered with a horny substance containing chitin. The protective armour plate also serves as an external skeleton, or exoskeleton, for the support of the internal organs.

The head bears the antennae, the mouth-parts, and the eyes. The thorax has three segments; on each is a pair of legs. In winged insects the thorax also bears one or two pairs of wings. The abdomen typically has 11 segments, though no more than 10 are visible; it contains a large part of the digestive system. In females the ovipositor, or egg-laying organ, is located at the tip of the abdomen.

Internal Organs

The nervous system of the insect includes a brain and a pair of parallel nerve cords, which extend along the length of the underside of the body. Along the nerve cords are a series of nerve masses, called ganglia. Each ganglion controls certain activities and is more or less independent of the others.

Insect blood is usually green, yellow, or colourless Few insects have red blood. The fluid is not enclosed in a system of arteries, veins, and capillaries but fills the body cavity. It is circulated by a tube that extends down the length of the body along the centre of the back. The tube has valved intake openings along its sides and is open at the anterior, or front, end. By means of muscles, it draws the blood through the side openings and pumps it forward into the head cavity and out again into the body. The pulsations of the tube can be easily seen in light-coloured caterpillars.

Air enters the body through breathing pores, called spiracles. A pair of spiracles is usually found on each of two thoracic segments and on several abdominal segments. From the spiracles, large air tubes called tracheae and smaller ones known as tracheoles carry air to all parts of the body. Some water insects breathe by means of gills. Other aquatic insects have a snorkel-like tube that leads to the water’s surface. Certain internal parasites and very primitive insects breathe directly through the body wall.


The mouth-parts of an insect can tell us about the kinds of food an insect eats.

Moths, cicadas, and butterflies have long slender tubes that they use to suck nectar out of flowers and into their mouths.

Caterpillars, grasshoppers,beetles, and crickets have chewing mouth-parts that may seem more complex than even a human mouth. The lower mouth-parts hold the food,and the upper mouth-parts chew the food.

Mouth-parts vary with feeding habits. For example, the mouth of a chewing insect, such as the grasshopper, has several parts. There is an upper lip, the labrum, and a lower lip, the labium. Between these are two pairs of jaws, which work sideways. The upper jaws, or mandibles, are for crushing; the lower pair, the maxillae, manipulate the food. On the maxillae and on the labium are two pairs of sensory structures called palpi. On the floor of the mouth is the tongue-like hypopharynx, which secretes digestive juices.

The sucking type of mouth is a modification of the chewing type. The butterfly’s coiled proboscis, or sucking tube, is a modification of the maxillae.

Sense Organs

The sense organs of insects are as varied as they are intricate. In some of these creatures the visual organs are capable of nothing more than distinguishing night from day. Others have eyes as efficient and sensitive as those of the vertebrates.

Insects have two different kinds of eyes: simple eyes and compound eyes.

Simple eyes are not paired, are very small, and act mainly as light detectors. They often act as helpers to the compound eyes, so the insect can react more quickly to any changes in the amount of light that is present. This is very important because many insects use light to tell them where they are. If you covered the simple eyes of a honeybee, it would still see with its compound eyes, but it would not be able to react as quickly to changes in light.

Insect eyes are of two general types simple and compound. Simple eyes, also called ocelli, are usually located in small clusters on the sides of the head or on the frons, or forehead. Although small, they may easily be seen by means of a magnifying glass. Ocelli are found in both immature and mature insects, but they appear to be more important in the mature forms. Individually these organs can do no more than detect light; however, the sensations received by several ocelli can together produce in the insect’s brain an image of the surrounding area as the creature turns its head from side to side.

A compound eye is actually a group of many eyes clustered together. These tiny eyes look like lenses or facets of the compound eye. Each one points in a slightly different direction and sees only a very small part of the world. The insect brain is able to put all of these tiny pictures together like a puzzle and form one overall picture. The more facets an insect has on its compound eye, the better it sees. Compound eyes are better than our eyes at seeing movement, which is very important since this may warn the insect that an enemy is near.

Compound eyes, like the sight organs of higher animals, are present in pairs, with one eye on each side of the head. They are most common in adult insects. Some certain mayflies, for example have two pairs of compound eyes.

The eyes are called compound because each one is composed of many lens-like facets. Each of these facets of which there are, for example, some 25,000 in a single dragonfly eye receives a separate image. The total effect of these images is a composite picture in the insect’s brain. The eyes of many insects bees, for example are sensitive to ultraviolet light, but insect eyes are generally less sensitive to colours at the red end of the spectrum.

The antennae are vital structures, because organs of taste, touch, smell, and hearing may be located in them. The loss of the pair of antennae usually leaves the insect in a shocked and helpless state. Their appearance and structure may vary greatly, even between insects of the same order.

The hearing organs of insects are well developed in many species and are found on various parts of the body. The ears of katydids and crickets are located on the tibiae of the forelegs. The typical grasshopper’s ear is clearly visible as an oval plate on the first abdominal segment.

The “Voices” of Insects

Insect sounds are produced by specialized structures to attract the opposite sex, to communicate with other members of a group, or to frighten enemies. Wings or mouth-parts may be rubbed together. Legs may be scraped against wings or bodies.

The grubs of certain wood-boring beetles produce sound by rubbing their legs together. The male cicada vibrates miniature “drum-heads” on the lower surface of its abdomen. The song of the female mosquito comes from the vibration of special bands stretched across its breathing organs.

Growth and Development

As they grow, the bodies of some insects go through major changes. Insect bodies are very different from human bodies. Whereas humans have an internal skeleton, the insect’s skeleton is a thick, hard, outer layer called an exoskeleton. Since this exoskeleton does not stretch, the insect must replace it with a larger covering when its body needs to grow.

There are different kinds of growth and development in insects. Some insects go through many changes from egg to adult, and some go through very few. Below are the types of development and examples of insects that grow that way.




No metamorphosis

Little change in appearance from birth to adult



Incomplete metamorphosis

Young look like adults, but body parts do not work as they will in the adult




Complete metamorphosis

Insect goes through many very different changes before becoming an adult





The development from egg to adult is most interesting, especially in those insects that go through the complex changes called complete metamorphosis. The growth of insects is quite different from that of vertebrates because the insect skeleton is an external covering rather than an internal framework. Except for the pliable fold between the plates of chitinous cuticle making up the exoskeleton, there is no place where expansion can occur; thus the growing insect must periodically shed, or moult, its covering. The new skin, already formed, then expands and begins to harden.

The offspring of all insects undergo a varying number of such growth intervals before maturity. Adult insects do not grow at all. With the exception of thesubimago (subadult) stage of the mayfly, only adults have functional wings. Primitive species such as silverfish mature with little change in appearance except their size. These kinds of insects are known as ametabolous insects. The immature insects of such species are called simply the “young.”

Immature grasshoppers, cicadas, the true bugs, and a number of other types resemble the adults in many respects but lack functional wings. Such young, called nymphs, are hemimetabolous or are said to exhibit incomplete metamorphosis. A variation of such development occurs in dragonflies, mayflies, and caddis flies. The nymphs of these forms are aquatic and have a way of life quite unlike that of the adults.

Bees, beetles, butterflies, and moths are some of the insects that go through all the changes of complete metamorphosis. They are said to be holometabolous. The young are called larvae (singular, larva). In the inactive stage immediately preceding adulthood they are called pupae (singular, pupa).

The larva hatches from an egg. Often larvae are mistaken for worms. They may be smooth-bodied, like the maggots of the fly, or hairy, like some caterpillars (literally, “hairy cat”), or they may be vicious-looking, like the grub of the tiger beetle. Larvae are classified into five forms, based on their shape: eruciform (caterpillar-like), scarabaeiform (grub-like), campodeiform (elongated, flattened, and active), elateriform (wire worm-like), and vermiform (maggot-like). Larvae differ from adults in many respects. The mouth-parts may be completely different. The mouth is always well developed, for this stage is the hungriest period of the insect’s life. Eyes, if present, are usually simple rather than compound. Certain structures found in the larva may be absent in the adult. Caterpillars, for example, have several additional legs, called prolegs, along the abdomen.

Near the end of its larval stage, the insect must find a place in which to pupate, or turn into a pupa. Beetle larvae, as well as certain caterpillars, may hollow out cells in the soil. Some caterpillars may spin silken cocoons about their bodies; some may spin bands to hold themselves against twigs or leaves. Some caterpillars hang upside down from silken pads. Hairy caterpillars pluck out their hairs to line the walls of their cocoons.

The pupal stage is a time of tissue transformation. During this period different kinds of mouth-parts, legs, eyes, and, perhaps, breathing organs must replace those of the larva. When the changes are completed, the creature bursts out of its old skin to become a fully developed insect. In this final, sexually mature state, it is also known as an imago.


Each species of insect, in its struggle for survival, has developed complex behaviour mechanisms and habits. These involve every activity of daily life including egg laying, nest building, self-defence, and the search for food.

Egg Laying and Care of the Young

Most species of insects are of two sexes, but in some the white-fringed beetle, for example males are unknown. In certain insects the sex of the offspring depends upon whether or not the egg has been fertilized. The un-mated females of some parasitic wasps produce males only, while mated ones produce the two sexes in about equal numbers. The queen honeybee can lay either fertilized or un-fertilized eggs, according to the needs of the hive. Un-fertilized eggs produce drones, while fertilized eggs produce females.

The adult female instinctively places her eggs in a place suitable for their hatching and for proper development of the young. Parasitic wasps and flies place their eggs directly on the host. The horse botfly glues her eggs to the hairs of the horse where they can be licked off and thus be transferred to the horse’s stomach; the larvae live on the lining of the stomach and intestines. If a caterpillar feeds on only one species of plant, then the egg from which it will hatch is unerringly placed upon that plant.

Often insects’ eggs are hidden in special protective materials. They may be encased in frothy secretions which dry to form a hard covering, or clusters of eggs may be coated with hairs or scales from the adult insect’s body. The eggs of many species are inserted directly into plant tissues by means of saw-like or spear-like ovipositors.

The young of some insects are born alive. Such insects are called viviparous (from Latin vivus, “alive,” and parere, “bring forth”), to distinguish them from egg-laying insects, which are calledoviparous (from Latin ovum, “egg”). Aphids sometimes lay eggs and sometimes produce live young; female aphids also bear young for many generations without mating. This is calledparthenogenesis (from the Greek words meaning “virgin birth”). A few insects reproduce in the larval or pupal stages. This is known as paedogenesis (from the Greek words meaning “birth from young”).


Nest building as an adult activity is peculiar to ants, wasps, and bees. Carpenter ants live in galleries, which they chew out of tree trunks, logs, and fence posts. Mound-building ants construct cities in the soil, with thousands of chambers and passageways. The great paper apartment houses of the paper wasps and the honeycombs of the bees are considered to be marvels of engineering.

Nesting species must feed their larvae. Ants forage for food for their young. Some species raise fungus gardens and cultivate aphid “cows,” whose liquid excrement, or honeydew, they eat. The mud dauber wasp lays its eggs in tubes of mud. It then stocks the tubes with paralysed spiders and seals the tubes. After the larvae hatch, a sufficient food supply is at hand until they pupate.

How Insects Spend the Winter

Each species of insect usually passes the winter in one particular phase of development. Some butterflies winter as pupae, caterpillars, or eggs. The monarch butterfly migrates long distances southward in the fall; some survive for a return flight in the spring.

In the winter some insects may come out of hibernation during brief periods of mild weather. Snow scorpion flies and spring-tails are often found on snow or ice. Honeybees in well-protected hives use their body heat to maintain a hive temperature that permits them to remain somewhat active and to feed on stored sweets. They leave the hive when the temperature rises to about 55° F (13° C).

Extreme heat or drought brings about a period of inactivity called estivation. The eggs of mosquitoes do not hatch and the nymphs and adults of many aquatic insects become dormant when the breeding ponds and marshes dry up.

Protection from Enemies

Insects have developed many methods of self-defence to avoid being devoured by their enemies. Flight, concealment, motion, armour and weapons, and even grotesqueness are some of these methods. Certain insects are specially adapted for hiding. Vast numbers hide beneath stones or the bark of trees. The flattened bodies of cockroaches and bedbugs enable them to disappear into narrow cracks.

The most interesting means of concealment are mimicry and protective colouration. The walking-stick looks like a twig. Certain moths blend so well into the bark of the tree on which they rest that they cannot be distinguished from the tree. Some harmless insects resemble stinging species in shape or colour and so are avoided by predators. Certain moths and flies mimic bees.

Armour and weapons are well developed in many insects. The tough, horny covering of the beetles amounts to a solid shell of armour Sharp jaws and beaks, poisoned stingers, and spines serve as effective weapons. The extreme hairiness of some caterpillars makes birds and other predators avoid them, and in some caterpillars the hairs have venomous spines.

Stink glands in some insects repel attackers in the same way as those in a skunk. When disturbed, the bombardier beetle ejects an irritating gas from its tail. The gas may be fired repeatedly and audibly. Grasshoppers exude a fluid popularly known as “tobacco juice.” The flavour of some insects is so bitter or sour that would-be predators avoid eating them.

Response to Environment

The reactions that insects have to different stimuli are called tropisms. Here are some different types of tropisms and the reactions given by insects.




Certain chemicals, usually related to a smell made by the insect’s food or mate


Light, either natural or man-made




Touch, usually from a similar insect






Currents, or flow, of water


Currents, or flow, of air

Insects are not able to reason. They are guided by instinct and by physiological reactions to their environment. Such reactions are called tropisms, from the Greek word tropos, meaning “turn.” All tropisms involve turning toward or away from a stimulus.

Through chemotropism, chemical stimuli help insects find places to lay their eggs. The carrion beetle, for example, deposits eggs on decayed meat drawn to it by odour Butterflies and bees are attracted to flowers by odour as well as colour

The scent glands of various insects help them attract a mate. Insects also avoid certain substances by chemotropic reactions. Clothes chests made of cedar or camphor wood have long been used for storing woollens and furs because these woods contain substances repellent to clothes moths.

Moths are attracted to artificial light and moonlight but avoid sunlight. This is called phototropism.

Some moths use the sun as a point by which to guide their flight, always keeping the light source at an 80 degree angle from its eye. When a light bulb is on, a moth will use the light as its guide, but when it flies at an 80-degree angle to the light bulb, its circular path will lead it directly into the bulb.

Many insects seem to be attracted to or repelled by light (phototropism). Moths are attracted to artificial light and moonlight but avoid sunlight. Butterflies react in the opposite way. Cockroaches in a dark room hide when a light is turned on.

Response to gravity (geotropism) may govern the way various boring insects react. Thermotropism, or attraction to heat, may draw parasites to their warm-blooded hosts. Thigmotropism is reaction to touch. Some insects avoid all contact with others; some thrive in close contact. The swarming of bees may be due to an attraction to one another’s bodies. Attraction to water (hydrotropism), adjustment to currents of streams (rheotropism), and adjustment to air currents (anemotropism) may explain the behaviour of a wide variety of insects. However, no single stimulus governs all of their complex activities.

Posted 2011/11/06 by Stelios in Education

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