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What are Hexapods?

Hexapods are fascinating six-legged creatures, primarily insects, that inhabit diverse ecosystems worldwide. Their unique biology and behavior offer insights into evolution and ecology. From the fluttering butterfly to the industrious ant, hexapods play crucial roles in nature. How do these tiny beings impact our lives and the planet? Join us as we uncover the secrets of their six-legged world.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Hexapods, subphylum Hexapoda, is a group of arthropods that includes the insects and some close relatives, including springtails, proturans, and diplurans. Hexapods are probably monophyletic, meaning they all descend from a common ancestor, and include no members that didn't descend from that ancestor. However, there is some evidence that springtails may have evolved their features independently, in an example of convergent evolution, although this is not the majority position. The relationships between members of Hexapoda is not entirely known — there are three primary cladistic hypotheses. Most other arthropods, such as spiders and crustaceans, have more than six legs.

Hexapods' signature characteristic is three pairs of legs, which is where they get their name (hexa means "six"), but they share many other features in common, including a consolidated thorax and genetic similarity. Hexapods diverged from their sister group, the fairy shrimps, around 440 million years ago, during the Silurian period, shortly after the appearance of terrestrial vascular plants. Little is known about how hexapods diverged from fairy shrimp and began to walk on land. Much more is known about the early history of the tetrapods. Prior to the arrival of vascular plants and hexapods on land, it was largely barren.

Hexapods are found on every continent, including Antarctica.
Hexapods are found on every continent, including Antarctica.

Hexapods are found on every continent on Earth, including Antarctica. In particular, springtails have been discovered in some of the most hostile environments on Earth, such as the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica, which contain so little moisture and life that large animals that die there dry out and are mummified instead of decomposing, like pretty much everywhere else.

Mosquitos are members of the Hexapoda subphylum.
Mosquitos are members of the Hexapoda subphylum.

The most familiar hexapods to humans would be the insects: flies, bees, mosquitos, beetles, mites, etc. In terms of species, hexapods are the most diverse subphylum on the planet, with over a million described species, and estimates of total species between 5 and 8 million. In particular, there are over a million species of beetle, with new species being discovered all the time. In all, beetles consist of about 40% of insects, and roughly 25% of all known life forms. If you randomly selected a species of animal from the Earth's surface, it's quite likely it would be a beetle.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Learn more...

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    • Hexapods are found on every continent, including Antarctica.
      By: axily
      Hexapods are found on every continent, including Antarctica.
    • Mosquitos are members of the Hexapoda subphylum.
      By: Dmitry Knorre
      Mosquitos are members of the Hexapoda subphylum.