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 work on a couple of projects.

This time, the two projects are 1) building an online matrix-based key to a group of species that occur in Alabama, and 2) learn and use mutlivariate statistical approaches in R to address a question about the function and evolution of insect morphology.

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 (100 points): In preparation for the exam, in the first third of the course there will be quizzes / graded exercises in each lecture session – 10 in all, each worth 10 points. Quizzes will test material that was was introduced readings assigned to a lecture session. We will devote some time before each quiz to go over any questions students have about those readings.
  • 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., gomphid dragonflies) that will serve as the subject of their illustrations.
  • Two projects (300 points each). Half of the grade for the matrix-based key project will come from peer evaluation.


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): This year, students will cooperate on a phylogeny project. Details to come. Half of each student’s grade for this project will be based on the evaluation of their peers.
  • 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.


  • 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 available via the course Google Drive. A week prior to each student’s in-class presentation, they must add their selected paper(s) to the Google Drive.


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
  • 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)
  • 30 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