Corey Simonsen, of Balclutha Primary School, asks :-

What kinds of insects can fly?

Anthony Harris, an entomologist at the Otago Museum, responded.

Most members of the “higher” insects can fly, apart from a few species that have become secondarily wingless, like worker ants, for example, in the order Hymenoptera, which comprises ants, bees, and wasps. All “primitive” insects, like silver fish in the order Thysanura, are primarily flightless.

Flight has enabled insects to become extraordinarily successful in most lands, enabling them to live in most land habitats. Wings allow insects to disperse and to find food whenever it becomes suddenly available, such as when a crop of food plants produce flowers or leaves. In general, wings let insects fly larger distances than they could go by walking. Wings enable insects to disperse, find mates, and find food, while the flightless larval stages stay put and eat. Butterflies and moths (order Lepidoptera), wasps (order Hymenoptera), dragonflies (order Odonata), flies (order Diptera) and cicadas (order Hemiptera) are examples of insects that fly.

On the other hand, fleas (order Siphonaptera) are thought to be related to true flies (order Diptera) but no flea anywhere can fly, for the entire order has become secondarily wingless and flightless, features that are associated with the parasitic way of life of all fleas.

In the case of bag moths and tiger moths, the adult female cannot fly; only the male can fly. The female releases a special scent called a “pheromone”, which the male detects on his enlarged antennae and flies to her. They mate and she lays eggs. In these cases, the female is usually near a food plant suitable for caterpillars, or she can walk to such plants to lay her eggs. The winged male ensures that cross fertilisation occurs, so that there will be genetic variation among the offspring.