Illustrating Insects

Mar 15, 2023
Drawings and paintings of bugs. Grasshopper, butterfly, beetle, bee, ladybird, dragonfly.

So, what IS an insect and what isn’t and how can we draw insects? The simplest and quickest way to identify an insect is by checking it has six legs, three body parts and probably wings - like bees, beetles and butterflies. Spiders are NOT insects because they have eight legs, two body parts and no wings. Slugs and snails are also NOT insects.

The term ‘bug’ tends to refer to all small creatures with multiple sets of legs like insects, spiders and centipedes. The generic term minibeasts can encompass these as well. Here, we’ll focus on insects. However, you can find other bugs in the Artventure library of lessons on how to draw. (click here to apply for a school or company LOGIN)

In the Australian Curriculum: Visual Arts, there are descriptors and elaborations that support and guide us in creating activities for children - drawing insects can be a key focus.

Visual Arts Foundation to Year 2

  • Explore ideas, experiences, observations and imagination to create visual artworks
    • observing and recording the shapes, colours and textures of things they experience in their daily lives, for example, drawing insects

Visual Arts Years 3 and 4

  • Present artworks and describe how they have used visual conventions to represent their ideas
    • comparing the visual conventions in artworks made for specific purposes, for example, how the artist represents an idea to show the audience a particular viewpoint

Visual Arts Years 5 and 6

  • Develop and apply techniques and processes when making their artworks
    • making informed choices about using various combinations of representational elements appropriate for a subject matter, for example, combining realistic drawing skills with an appropriated image to create new meaning

The study of insects (entomology) fits in well with virtually every level of the Australian Curriculum under Biological Sciences. To help develop some lesson or unit plans, I’ve grouped the inquiries, information and art activities under progressive year levels.

1. Biological Sciences Year 1

  • Living things have a variety of external features
    • recognising common features of animals such as head, legs and wings

What are the key features of an insect?

  • Hard external skeleton which protects like armour, and has sense organs for detecting things like light, sound, temperature and smell
  • Segmented body with three parts - head, thorax, abdomen
  • Three pairs of jointed legs which are attached to the middle section, or thorax
  • A pair of antennae that help sense the environment
  • May have no wings or 2 sets - forewings and hindwings. In most species these are coupled together which helps them fly. At rest they fold over the back of the insect. Front wings on a ladybird act as a protective cover over the hindwings which are the ones used in flight.

Artventure Activities including bugs, beetles and creatures:

2. Biological Sciences Year 2

  • Living things grow, change and have offspring similar to themselves
    • exploring different characteristics of life stages in animals such as egg, caterpillar and butterfly

What are the stages in the life cycle of insects?

  • There are 4 stages: egg - larva - pupa - adult. This video seems helpful and clear to help students understand the stages - Life Cycle of Insects

Artventure Activities

3. Biological Sciences Year 3

  • Living things can be grouped on the basis of observable features and can be distinguished from non-living things
    • recognising characteristics of living things such as growing, moving, sensitivity and reproducing

How does a caterpillar become a butterfly?

  • Here is another clip (Life Cycle of a Butterfly) that explains this well with real footage of each stage. Notice that the caterpillar still has six legs like all insects - the back ‘legs’ are just like little stumps. The caterpillar is still an insect because it is the baby stage and will grow into an adult butterfly.

Artventure Activities

4. Biological Sciences Year 4

  • Living things depend on each other and the environment to survive
    • investigating the roles of living things in a habitat, for instance decomposers
    • observing and describing predator-prey relationships
    • recognising that interactions between living things may be competitive or mutually beneficial

How do plants and insects rely on each other?

  • You may have just been watching the video clip showing the caterpillar munching away at the leaves to grow big enough to turn into a butterfly. A good supply of leaves is therefore vital for their survival.  
  • Bees play a vital role in the production of honey and the pollination of flowers. Here’s a short video clip: How bees turn nectar into honey. Why do we need bees is a video that shows how the bumble bee is needed to pollinate many of the plant foods we eat, as well as flowers.
  • Beetles have a diverse diet and can eat all bits of living and dead plants. They clean up the forest floor. They are predators too, helping get rid of pest insects. Ladybirds eat aphids, for example. Beetles help by decomposing leaf litter and wood, and dead animals and insects. They are nature’s recycling system.

Artventure Activities

5. Biological Sciences Year 5

  • Living things have structural features and adaptations that help them to survive in their environment
    • explaining how particular adaptations help survival such as nocturnal behaviour
    • exploring general adaptations for particular environments such as adaptations that aid water conservation in deserts

How have physical adaptations helped insects survive? 

  • Take a look at these 11 Amazing Examples of Insect Camouflage. This helps hide them from predators like birds and lizards, or other insects.
  • Some have developed feet and legs to allow for jumping, digging and running - either to chase prey or escape a predator. Watch this Grasshopper Walk and consider the use of his legs, feet and antennae. 
  • Mouthparts have evolved depending on the insects source of food.  Some chew from side to side like beetles, grasshoppers, and caterpillars which eat plants. Flies have a sponge-like mouthpart to mop up their food. They first spit on a bread crumb and then mop it up once it has dissolved. Bees and butterflies syphon with a mouthpart like a straw to collect nectar from flowers. Mosquitoes do the same but first pierce their food source and then suck up blood. This shows a Monarch Butterfly drinking nectar
  • How a Dragonfly Hunts - this is one of the most successful predators. Watch how the wings have developed to enable the dragonfly to move extremely quickly in any direction. Notice the huge eyes that can see all around. And did you see the moment when the legs pulled in the prey? 

Artventure Activity

6. Biological Sciences Year 6

  • The growth and survival of living things are affected by physical conditions of their environment
    • researching organisms that live in extreme environments
    • considering the effects of physical conditions causing migration and hibernation

How have behaviours of insects evolved to help them survive in their environment?

  • Insects have learnt to detect and respond to signals in their environment. For example, bees learn to follow visual cues to return to a location of food source. Other insects have developed the ability to burrow, jump or fly to escape predators. Many are only active during certain times of the day to conserve energy and avoid predators. In times of food shortage, insects might migrate or can even change their chemical makeup to reduce hunger or slow down reproduction until food sources improve. For many insects, the ability to produce huge numbers of eggs increases the likelihood of survival of the species.
  • Then there are those insects that have developed elaborate forms of communication - social insects, like ants and bees. Ants leave a trail of smells (like bread crumbs) to help others get to a food source. (How ants find food) Bees do a dance movement that indicates direction and distance to a food source. Male Cicadas ‘sing’ to attract a female. Females have their own ‘song’ in response. 

Artventure Activity

When drawing insects…

Some of our drawings are simplified. Jointed legs may be straight lines or ‘sausages’! Sometimes it's hard to show the 6 legs all coming from the middle thorax section. Parts can be hidden by wings. Even if this is the case in a video, you can try to draw them all joined to the middle part, if that is showing. Watch for this in the videos! Be an entomologist - study the insect drawings!

One art lesson, Circle Creature, is a bit of fun and looks like a caricature of an ant. Artistic licence can allow for some crazy creepy-crawlies. Encouraging some creativity can take these simple lessons to new levels of artistry. 

With this in mind, more challenging art lessons can be found in the Art Eye Deer library. These are definitely a bit of fun and worth a go!

Art Eye Deer lessons  (Would you like to give ARTVENTURE as a GIFT?)

Children like to explore their backyard, the local park or the school yard for these tiny creatures. Send them on an expedition to notice and determine whether the minibeasts they find are insects, or not. Their art activity could be outside while they watch these little creatures go about their business. Whether factual or fun artworks, insects can make a fascinating subject!

Teacher and Artventure Blogger

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