Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Insect senses



The world must look and feel very different to an insect. Apart from being much smaller than us, and (unlike us) constantly in danger of being eaten by something bigger (such as a spider, a bird, or even another insect), their senses are different from ours.


  • Each eye of an insect is like a lot of eyes all stuck together, they are called compound eyes.
  • They see the world very differently to us.
  • They can see colour.
  • They are very good at seeing movement, but they can't see shapes nearly as well as humans.


  • Insects don't have noses, but they can smell extremely well.
  • They smell with the antennae which stick out of the front or sides of the head.
  • Moths and other insects often have antennae like feathers; this increases the surface area so that they can pick up scents particularly well.
  • Female insects produce special substances called pheromones; these are like perfumes and are used to attract the males.
  • A male European emperor moth (Pavonia pavonia) is known to be able to pick up the female's scent from a distance of 11 km!


  • Most insects don't have ears, but they can pick up sounds through their skin.
  • Some insects have tympanal organs, which are basically ears, except that they are not on the head but elsewhere on the body. For example, crickets have the tympanal organs on the front legs.
  • Male crickets, cicadas, and grasshoppers "sing" to attract females to mate with; each species has its own special song.