Types of Flying Insects

Sustained flight
Types of Flying Insects
Ancient Insects
Insect Communication

Of the 29 orders of insects in the world, 25 are flighted. 
Each of the 25 orders has its own unique aerial capabilities and challenges. 
Some of the more common and interesting orders are briefly discussed here.

Coleoptera (beetles):  Beetles have only one set of wings used in aerial flight.  The outer set, known as elytera, are hard and serve as a protective cover for the inner set.  Because this outer set must be held open during flight beetles are often clumsy fliers.
Stag beetle in flight with dark elytra held above flight
        capable wings
Stag beetle in flight with dark elytra held above flight capable wings


Hymenoptera (wasps and bees):  Members of the order hymenoptera have two sets of wings used in flight and are often very hardy fliers.  One example is the domestic honey bee (Apis meliferous) which flies great distances in search of food.  Some challenges faced by this order are an inability to hover and fly in rain.
Honey bee about to land
Honeybee about to land on flowering plant


Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies):  Because of their lifestyle of feeding on other flying insects, odonates have evolved to be the MOST aerial of flying insects.  Their aerial capabilities come from the fact that they can move each of their four wings independently of each other.  Both dragonflies and damselflies mate in the air.  Human pilots and engineers have tried for years to develop toys and planes which mimic these insects' maneuverability.  Thus far, developing these calculations has proven too complex.

mating dragonflies
Mating dragonflies


Thysanoptera (thrips or air-swimmers):  These little-known insects are so small that the air around them acts like a fluid allowing them to "swim" rather then fly through the air.  This ability is increased by the presence of four small feathered wings.  In rare cases small members of the order hymenoptera have developed similar capabilities.
thrips with wings spread
Thrips with wings spread

Diptera (flies):  Perhaps the most well known of all flying insects, the diptera, only have one set of wings with the second set being reduced to tiny air sacs known as halters.  These halters are believed to be involved in in-flight balance and allow flies to do incredible aerodynamic moves such as hovering and mid-air mating dances (robber flies).
image showing halters
Image showing halters (at end of black lines)


Lepidoptera (butterflies):  Butterflies are perhaps the most challenged of flying insects due to the heavy scales that cover their wings.  Although heavy and costly to overall energy conservation these scales provide butterflies with many benefits, such as escaping spider webs and the ability to develop bright "warning" coloration.
blown up image of butterfly wing scales                                                          blown up image of butterfly wing scale patterns
Blown up image of  butterfly wing scales                                               Blown up image of butterfly wing scale patterns
www.sciencephoto.com/media/371723/enlarge                                        http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Scale_(zoology)