Our Common Insects Informative Summary


This book, published in 1873, offers a detailed exploration of the diverse world of common insects. It delves into their intricate structures, eating habits, and the fascinating process of metamorphosis.

The text highlights the remarkable instincts and complex social structures of bees, from the familiar honeybee to the lesser-known solitary species. It details the fascinating parasitic relationships insects have with one another, exploring how some insects rely on others for food and shelter. The book also discusses the role of insects in the ecosystem, highlighting both their destructive and beneficial aspects.

Key findings:

  • Bees possess a remarkable level of instinct and reasoning power: The book explores how bees exhibit intelligence in their building practices and in their ability to adapt to unexpected challenges, like the presence of parasites in their nests.
  • Insect parasites play a crucial role in the ecosystem: The book reveals the intricate relationships between insects and their parasites, showing how they regulate populations and contribute to the balance of nature.
  • Many insects are beneficial to humans: While some insects are recognized as pests, the book emphasizes the crucial role of others in controlling harmful insects, pollinating plants, and even cleaning up decaying matter.
  • Economic impact of insects: The text highlights the significant financial losses caused by agricultural pests, but also recognizes the positive contributions of insects like silkworms.


  • Insect anatomy and physiology: The book explains how insects breathe, walk, and fly, shedding light on the complex internal systems that govern their functions.
  • Insect metamorphosis: The text details the process of transformation from egg to adult, covering both the complete and incomplete metamorphosis stages in different insect groups.
  • Insect ecology: The book explores the complex relationships between insects and their environment, including how they impact the growth of plants and their role as predators and parasites.
  • Insect behavior: The text highlights the remarkable instincts and intelligent actions of insects, particularly in bees and wasps, demonstrating their ability to build complex structures, communicate with one another, and care for their young.

Historical context:

This book was written in a time when the theory of evolution was gaining traction, and the author explores this idea in relation to insect development. The text also reflects a growing awareness of the economic impact of insects, particularly on agriculture.


  • Honey bees lay over a million eggs in their lifetime. This highlights their incredible reproductive capacity.
  • The food eaten by a single American Silk Worm in 56 days is 86,000 times its original weight. This demonstrates the voracious appetites of caterpillars during their growth phase.
  • The Tsetze fly is a species of Horse fly that can poison cattle. This fact showcases the dangerous potential of even seemingly insignificant insects.
  • The common house fly laps up liquid sweets with a fleshy tongue-like organ. This reveals the unique adaptations insects have developed for feeding.
  • The larva of the Horse fly can devour over 10 water snails. This illustrates the beneficial role some insects can play in controlling other populations.
  • The Bee louse is wingless and spider-like. This points to the diverse adaptations insects have made for parasitism.
  • The Oil beetle lives on the bodies of wild bees and feeds on their eggs and pollen. This showcases the competitive relationships between insects.
  • The Bee fungus weakens bees by filling their stomachs with microscopic spores. This highlights the various diseases insects are susceptible to.
  • Apatus is a bee parasite that closely resembles the Humble bee. This showcases the phenomenon of mimicry in the natural world.
  • The Wood Nymph butterfly (Eudryas grata) has a bluish larva that feeds on grape vines. This provides an example of the variety of caterpillars found on this plant.
  • The American Procris moth has a gregarious larva that feeds on the softer parts of leaves. This demonstrates the different social behaviors of caterpillars.
  • The American silk worm (Teleas Polyphemus) is a valuable source of silk. This highlights the economic importance of certain insects.
  • The Yama-maï moth (Antheræa Yama-maï) originated in Japan and is closely allied to the Polyphemus moth. This demonstrates the global distribution of insect species.
  • The Chinese silk worm (Samia Cynthia) is a hardy species that can be reared in the open air. This highlights the adaptability of some insect species to different climates.
  • The Clothes moth is a delicate, tiny moth that lays its eggs in woollens. This highlights the destructive nature of this household pest.
  • The Black fly is a major pest in northern, subarctic regions, often making travel impossible. This demonstrates the significant impact insects can have on human activity.
  • The Horse fly (Gad) has mouth-parts similar to the mosquito. This emphasizes the shared structural features of insects that bite and suck blood.
  • The Carpet fly is a rare insect that feeds on carpets and rotten wood. This highlights the diversity of insect habitats.
  • The Microdon larva is almost spherical and resembles a snail. This points to the unique adaptations insects have developed to survive in different environments.
  • The Apple midge is a small fly that lays its eggs in fresh apples. This demonstrates the ways in which insects can damage crops even after harvest.


  • 4/5 of the animal kingdom is made up of insects. This emphasizes the vast diversity and number of insect species.
  • There are over 200,000 species of insects. This reinforces the sheer diversity of the insect world.
  • A single American Silk-worm eats 86,000 times its original weight in 56 days. This shows the incredible amount of food consumed by caterpillars during their growth phase.
  • A flea can leap 200 times its own height. This demonstrates the impressive physical abilities of insects.
  • A mosquito’s beak is made up of 5 bristle-like organs. This highlights the intricate structure of their mouthparts.
  • The Hessian fly is estimated to have destroyed $15 million worth of wheat in New York State in one year. This demonstrates the tremendous economic damage insects can cause.
  • The Colorado potato beetle is estimated to have caused over $73 million in damage to crops in Illinois alone. This shows the massive impact that insect pests can have on agricultural economies.
  • The annual revenue from the silk trade worldwide is estimated at $254,500,000. This showcases the economic importance of insect products.
  • The Tsetze fly is said to poison cattle in certain parts of Africa, causing significant losses to farmers. This illustrates the impact insects can have on livestock.
  • The Oil beetle can produce over 2,000 offspring. This demonstrates the remarkable reproductive capacity of some insects.
  • The sheep Bot fly lays its eggs directly as larvæ. This highlights the unique reproductive methods found in the insect world.
  • The Apple midge is estimated to have destroyed 9/10 of the apple crop in one Massachusetts town. This demonstrates the devastating impact insect pests can have on specific agricultural products.
  • The human flea is not found in America. This highlights the distinct geographical distribution of some insect species.
  • The Chigoe (Sarcopsylla penetrans) is a major pest in the tropics of America, causing painful sores in the feet of humans. This demonstrates the impact of insect pests on human health.
  • The Plum weevil is estimated to have destroyed a considerable portion of the plum crop in the United States. This highlights the economic impact of insect pests on specific fruits.
  • The Chinch bug can devastate wheat crops, causing significant losses to farmers. This highlights the impact of insect pests on a major staple crop.
  • The 17-year locust (Cicada septendecim) can lay over 500 eggs in its lifetime. This demonstrates the incredible reproductive potential of some insects.
  • The 17-year locust can live for 17 years in its larval stage. This showcases the long lifespans of some insects.


  • Chitine: A hard, protective substance found in the exoskeletons of insects.
  • Metamorphosis: The process of transformation from egg to adult, involving distinct larval and pupal stages.
  • Larva: The first stage of an insect’s life, often a worm-like form.
  • Pupa: The inactive stage of an insect’s life, often encased in a cocoon or chrysalis.
  • Imago: The adult stage of an insect’s life.
  • Parasite: An organism that lives on or in another organism, benefiting at the host’s expense.
  • Parthenogenesis: The development of an embryo from an unfertilized egg.
  • Viviparous: Giving birth to live young, rather than laying eggs.
  • Hyper-metamorphosis: A complex metamorphosis in which the larva undergoes multiple distinct stages before reaching the pupal stage.
  • Hemiptera: A group of insects including bugs, true bugs, and lice.


  • The Humble bee: The book details the complex social structure and intricate building practices of this bee species, illustrating the remarkable intelligence of insects.
  • The Carpenter bee (Xylocopa Virginica): This bee species shows incredible architectural skill by carving intricate tunnels in solid wood, providing a detailed example of insect behavior.
  • The Leaf-cutter bee (Megachile): This bee species demonstrates impressive resourcefulness by constructing its nests from carefully cut pieces of leaves, illustrating the adaptability of insects.
  • The Oil beetle (Meloë): This beetle parasite demonstrates an unusual hyper-metamorphosis, highlighting the diversity of transformations insects undergo.
  • The Stylops: This parasite illustrates the complex interactions between host and parasite, showcasing how some insects live completely dependent on other species.
  • The Dragon fly: The book uses the Dragon fly as an example of a predator, illustrating its predatory instincts and role in controlling mosquito populations.
  • The Clothes moth: This moth provides a familiar example of a household pest, highlighting its destructive habits.
  • The Black fly: The book discusses the black fly as a major pest, illustrating its impact on human activity and health.
  • The Horse fly (Tabanus): This fly provides an example of an insect that bites and sucks blood, showcasing the adaptations insects have made for feeding.
  • The Cheese mite: The book explores the prevalence of this mite in unrefined sugar and its potential to cause “grocer’s itch,” demonstrating how insects can impact human health.


This 1873 text provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of common insects, offering a wealth of information about their anatomy, physiology, behavior, and ecology. While it reflects the scientific understanding of the time, it also showcases the enduring interest in these creatures and their role in our world. The book highlights the intricate relationships between insects and their environment, demonstrating both their potential for destruction and their vital contributions to the ecosystem. The author’s exploration of the theory of evolution in the context of insect development showcases a turning point in scientific thought, foreshadowing the growing understanding of the interconnectedness of life on Earth. Through detailed observations and insightful analysis, the book invites readers to appreciate the complexity and beauty of the insect world, even in the most seemingly mundane creatures.

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