ENTM 5440 / 6440: Insect Morphology

ENTM 5300 / 6300: Insect Systematics

ENTM 5440 / 6440: Insect Morphology

Credits: 5


Learn what bugs are made of! And then do something useful with that information. Students will gain an in-depth understanding of the physical form of insects and learn how morphology is used in entomological research.


Two 75 minute lectures and one 2 hour lab per week. The course follows a ‘flipped classroom’ format. Students will read over instructional materials before attending a lecture session that will be devoted to addressing questions about the readings and in-class learning exercises.

Traditionally, insect morphology courses focused on terminology and illustration. Traditional insect morphology courses have all but gone extinct. We will cover terminology and illustration, but only int the first third of the semester. After that, we’ll try to do something with our knowledge of insect morphology, that is, we’ll do some projects.

This time, we’ll divide into small groups and use geometric morphometric methods to investigate patterns in insect morphological variation.

Participation and Evaluation

  • Lecture exam (150 points): There will be only one exam, at the end of the first third of the semester. It will test students’ command of the terminology and their ability to interpret insect morphology.
  • Lecture quizzes / exercises (150 points): There will be a total of 15 quizzes, each worth 10 points.
  • Illustrations (150 points): Three of them, each worth 50 points. At the start of the semester, each student will select an insect species (e.g., kudzu bug) or group of related species (e.g., katydids) that will serve as the subject of their illustrations.
  • Research Paper discussions (100 points): Each student will lead the rest of us in a discussion of a paper about or that applies geometric morphometrics.
  • Multi-access key project (250 points). Students will work together to produce an online key to a group of species that occurs in AL. Half of the grade for the matrix-based key project will come from peer evaluation.
  • Morphometrics project (200 points). Students will work in small groups to obtain and analyse a geometric morphometric data set.


Here what you need  for the traditional morphology subjects:


ENTM 5300 / 6300: Insect Systematics

Credits: 5


ENTM 3040 General Entomology, or ENTM 4020 Economic Entomology. Note: These prerequisites are seldom met.


Learn to be an insect systematists! Identify insect orders and common families, develop skills to delimit species, estimate phylogenies, and make classifications and diagnostic tools.


Two 75 minute lectures and two 1 hour and 50 minute labs per week. Lecture sessions will use instructional modules to set up in-class learning activities. Instruction will be front loaded; as the semester progresses lecture time will be progressively allocated for an in-class phylogeny project. The labs will be focused on building an insect collection and mastering insect identification.

Participation and Evaluation

  • Quizzes / in-class activities (100 points): Everything we do in class counts towards your grade.
  • Lecture exams (150 points): There will be two midterm examinations, each of which will count for 75 points of the final grade. The second midterm is cumulative.
  • Phylogeny projects (300 points): Each student will estimate phylogenetic relationships among a group of insect species using published DNA or morphology data.
  • Lab practical exams (150 points): The students’ ability to identify insects that occur in the Southeastern US will be assessed with 4 midterm practical exams (25 points each) and one cumulative final practical exam (50 points). Tests will involve a combination of sight identification and diagnostic tool work.
  • Insect collection (500 points): The scoring system places incentives on good collection building practices – e.g., collecting series of particular species, keeping track of ecological associations. Including specimens that require special preservation methods – e.g. slide mounting – will also be incentivized.
  • Taxon overview (100 points): Grad students will take turns introducing the diversity and diagnostics of groups of insects.


  • Johnson NF, Triplehorn CA. 2004. Borror and DeLong’s Introduction the Study of Insects. Required. Not without flaw, but the most comprehensive resource for identifying North American insect families.
  • Additional reading will come from the primary literature, and will be posted to the course calendar below.


The plan may change a bit as we go. Click on a lecture subject for more information, including links to the lecture notes and readings.

Collection Scoring

This is slightly modified from the system Dr Mike Williams developed and used for his Insect Systematics course here at AU for decades.

700 points = D; 1100 points = C; 1500 points = B; 1800 points = A

Minimum Collection: 15 orders, 100 families = 700 points


  • 30 points for each additional order (more for a few — see below)
  • 15 points for each additional family
  • 5 points for each additional subfamily
  • 2 points for each additional morphospecies within a family
  • 5 points for each series (more than 5 specimens of the same species)
  • 10 points for each slide-mounted specimen
  • 2 points for each pointed specimen
  • 5 points for each ecological association (host plant, mutualist, natural enemy)
  • 30 points for rare families (those bearing an asterisk in the text)
  • 60 points each: Protura, Diplura, Zygentoma, Embioptera, Zoraptera, Strepsiptera
  • 30 points for each specimen with a bounty on it — i.e., that are needed for the teaching collection
  • Up to 50 points for tidy curation


  • 10 points for each incorrect, or unintelligible determination or data label
  • 25 points for each misidentified family
  • 75 points for each misidentified order
  • 20 points for each improperly preserved specimen
  • 400 points for false information


  • No more than 25% of collection can consist of traded material.
  • Trades are only permitted between students currently taking this course. That is, no recycling of material from previous years is permitted.
  • At least 85% off collection must be collected this term.
  • Specimens in your collection may be be taken to replenish the teaching collection.

Course Policies