Insect Biology

Module summary

Module code: ZOOL1012
Level: 6
Credits: 15
School: Engineering and Science
Department: Natural Resources Institute
Module Coordinator(s): Sarah Arnold



There are more species of insects than of any other animal group on Earth, playing fundamental roles in almost all terrestrial ecosystems. They are used as models for a variety of wider biological processes, and as indicators within ecosystems. Their interactions with humans may be positive, as pollinators of crops and agents of decomposition, or negative, by vectoring human diseases and damaging agricultural and forestry productivity. This course will draw on the internationally-respected expertise within NRI to introduce the diversity, evolution and biology of insects, discuss applied aspects of entomology and explore ways to study and monitor them.

The course aims to:
• introduce the diversity and taxonomy of insect groups (and other terrestrial arthropods), describing their key features and adaptations
• explore how the anatomy, physiology and behaviour of insects is adapted to their lifestyles and ecology, and how understanding this can be relevant to applied questions
• introduce the genetics and reproductive strategies of insects, and show how this helps make them so successful
• consider examples of how insects interact with humans in positive and negative contexts in food security and human health
• outline ways that insect numbers can be increased or reduced, and the effects of these interventions for conservation and pest control
• demonstrate methods for experimental investigation and for sampling and monitoring insects in the environment

Learning outcomes

1 Appreciate the value and limitations of studying insects as a route to understand wider biological systems.
2 Identify major insect groups (at least to Order level and to Family level where appropriate) and critically evaluate the differences between them; consider critically the use of taxonomic keys and other media in facilitating identification.
3 Discuss critically the features and adaptations that can account for insects’ global success.
4 Evaluate the role of insects as beneficial and harmful agents in their interactions with humans.
5 Appreciate the complexity involved in devising management strategies to increase and decrease insect numbers.
6 Compare and contrast methods of studying, sampling and monitoring insects.

Indicative content

• Diversity of insects: identification, evolution and development; major insect groups and their ecology and adaptive strategies
• Insect physiology in the context of ecology and applied entomology, insects as model organisms
• Insect behaviour – mating, learning, foraging, sensory ecology, communication
• Insect-human interactions: disease vectors, urban entomology, insects in agriculture, insects as food
• Insect conservation
• Insect monitoring methodologies

Teaching and learning activity

Material will be delivered in lectures, supplemented by practical sessions (indoors and outdoors) and tutorial discussion sessions. Students will go on one field trip to an insect-related business establishment. Students will be expected to give a short presentation during the course (“seminar”).


Seminar - 40%
LO - 3, 4
Numeric grading.
Pass mark - 40%
10 minute presentation.
Presentation to rest of the class on a topic related to but going beyond material covered in lectures and practical sessions.

Grant Proposal Exercise - 60%
LO - 1, 2, 5, 6
Numeric grading.
Pass mark - 40%
3000 words.
Submission of a miniature grant application in a format similar to those used by researchers, proposing investigate an existing knowledge gap in insect biology.