Hexapoda (Greek for “six-legged”) is an animal subphylum consisting of arthropods, insects, and wingless arthropods. All examples of hexapods have one distinct feature that separates them from other animal groups: three pairs of legs attached to a centralized thorax.
However, some arthropods called arachnids have four or more pairs of legs, such as mites, ticks, and spiders. Evolutionary biologists believe that hexapods branched off from the fairy shrimps (Anostraca) over 450 million years ago when ferns, shrubs, and other vascular plants began sprouting on land.
In this list we learn about 10 examples of these invertebrates known as hexapods.
10 Examples of Hexapods
Mayflies are not only active during May but throughout late spring and summer, providing a valuable food resource for reptiles and fish. Brown, yellow, or gray in color and possessing thin, long abdomens, mayflies are small, one-inch hexapods that prefer to live near clean lakes and streams.
In fact, ecologists often gauge mayfly populations to determine the water health of lakes and streams. Interestingly, mayfly insectarvae voraciously consume plant material but stop eating once they reach adulthood.
Larvae hatch from eggs deposited in water, living as nymphs for up to a year. Adult mayflies live for only two or three days.
Wingless hexapods that can be black, brown, white, or brightly colored, springtails resemble fleas in their ability to jump several inches from one spot to another. Tiny insects (less than 1/8th inch long) with elongated bodies, springtails thrive in moist environments and are important decomposers of decaying plant and soil detritus.
Immature springtails will molt as many as 10 times before becoming adults. Even adult springtails continue molting dozens of times until they reach their full size.
Dragonflies can be seen hovering and zipping around everywhere in the world except Antarctica. With their large, often colorful bodies, long wings, and oversized eyes, dragonflies are one of the most recognizable hexapods gracing ponds, lakes, and streams.
They have the amazing ability to fly as fast as 35 miles per hour forward and backward. Dragonfly larvae remain in the water for two to three years, molting about 15 times before they emerge as fully developed dragonflies.
Adult dragonflies live for one month, eating mosquitoes, flies, and water spiders. Emerging over 300 million years ago, dragonflies are believed to be one of Earth’s oldest insects.
Close cousins of dragonflies with thin, long abdomens and two pairs of wings, damselflies can easily be mistaken for dragonflies. However, most damselflies have brilliantly colored bodies reflecting iridescent shades of red, green, and blue.
They also have short (less than half an inch) antennae; dragonflies have longer antennae. Like dragonflies, damselflies live near bodies of water and have exceptional flying abilities.
While grasshoppers provide an important source of food for birds, amphibians, and small mammals, they are destructive crop pests that destroy millions of dollars of crops worldwide every year. Considered a more recently evolved hexapod appearing approximately 65 million years ago along with the development of grasslands, grasshoppers have unique adaptations that aid them in surviving the myriad of predators always chasing them.
For example, their antennae, head, legs, and abdomen contain sensation receptors that immediately alert them to nearby movement. The grasshopper’s compound eyes can also detect the slightest light change in darkness.
The old story goes that earwigs were so named because these hexapods loved nothing more than to climb into human and animal ears and lay eggs in the brain. While earwigs are known to infest animal ears, they rarely take up residence in human ears.
Not quite an inch long with brownish-black bodies, earwigs prefer moist, dark environments like crevices in tree trunks, under rocks and garden mulch, and, unfortunately, inside homes.
They could be mistaken for cockroaches due to their nocturnal habits. Earwig infestations in homes or pet ears may be detected by the presence of tiny, white, oval eggs clumped in batches of 20 to 50 eggs.
The most common cause of damage to homes and their foundations is the termite, a hardy, eusocial hexapod that chews wood to make paper-mache-like termite mounds. Living in large colonies consisting of eggs, nymphs, and workers, termites live solely for one purpose–to protect and adulate their queen.
Termite queens live longer than any other insect, with some known to have reached their 50th birthday before expiring and passing the torch to another female. Although just the mention of the word “termite” makes building owners in the U.S. recoil in alarm, people in African and Asian countries consider termites as a delicacy–meaning they eat them!
8. Moths and Butterflies
Both moths and butterflies have all the characteristics of hexapods except that moths are nocturnal, while butterflies are diurnal. So, if you see what you think is a butterfly after dark, it’s likely a moth.
Butterflies and moths belong to the insect order Lepidoptera, which consists of over 17,000 species of butterflies and around 165,000 species of moths. In addition, butterflies and moths are the only winged hexapods with scales overlaying their wings.
Antlions earned their name due to the rapacious nature of antlion larvae. Little antlions dig small pits in sandy ground that effectively trap ants and similar insects. After hiding themselves underground at the bottom of the pit, antlion larvae wait patiently for an insect to fall into the trap.
They then enjoy a delicious meal without leaving their pit. What’s even more insulting to insects that descend into the antlion pit is that, once the antlion is finished sucking out the guts of a bug, they nonchalantly toss the skin out of the pit.
Mothlike in their appearance and attraction to light sources after dark, caddisflies live around freshwater rivers and lakes where caddisfly larvae and adults consume plant debris, algae, insects, and sometimes crustaceans.
Immature caddisflies are a favorite fish food, while trout specifically are enticed by flying adult caddisflies. The artificial flies you buy to go trout fishing are based on the superficial characteristics of adult caddisflies.