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Compendium Spot ID Tutorials Labs Glossary NC Pests

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Insect Senses

All insects have sense organs that allow them to see, smell, taste, hear, and touch their environment.   Since these are the same five senses we humans experience, it is tempting to conclude that insects see what we see, hear what we hear, smell what we smell, etc.   But experimental evidence has shown that an insect's sensory capabilities are very different (both qualitatively and quantitatively) from those of humans and other vertebrates.

All sense organs (receptors) act as transducers -- converting light energy, chemical energy, or mechanical energy from the environment into electrical energy of nerve impulses in sensory neurons.   Signals generated by insect sensory receptors travel to the brain or ventral nerve cord where they stimulate appropriate behavioral responses:   finding resources (e.g. food, mate, etc.), avoiding danger, or reacting to changes in the environment.   All sensory receptors are derived from embryonic ectoderm and are integral parts of the insect's exoskeleton.   They can be grouped into one of three categories, depending on function:

Category

Function

Examples

Mechanoreceptors

Detect movements, vibrations, or other mechanical disturbances

Tactile receptors

Proprioceptors

Sound receptors

Chemoreceptors

Detect the presence of chemical substances in the air (smell) or on substrates (taste)

Taste buds on palps

Antennal sensilla

Photoreceptors

Detect the presence and quality of incident light (electromagnetic radiation)

Compound eyes

Ocelli

Follow the links above for more information about each receptor type.