Hymenoptera is an order of insects that includes bees, ants, and wasps. A quick search gives the following etymological analysis of the term hymenoptera.

hymen (membrane) + pteron (wing)

Does the term hymenoptera have a firm basis in biology and physiology? In other words, what is different about membranes or wings (or membranous wings) in species of hymenoptera as opposed to species of other orders of insects?


1 Answer 1


I don't have a definitive answer, but I suspect Hymenoptera is "just a name," albeit a name that has lasted through the phylogenetic nomenclature revolution.

Hymenoptera was erected by Linnaeus in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae (1758). The description of Hymenoptera (membrane wing; p. 553 [hope your Latin is better than mine]) follows that of Lepidoptera (scale wing) and Neuroptera (net wing) and precedes Diptera (two wing).

Classical taxonomy, which Linnaeus was more or less inventing at the time, was based on shared similarities. Those insects which Linnaeus thought more similar to each other than to other insects (e.g., ants, wasps, bees) all shared the characteristic of having a membrane based wing. The scaly wings of moths and butterflies made them more similar to each other.

He needed names for these groups, so he chose logical ones based on outward appearance of the wings: scaly, netted, membranous, or paired. That fact that these major groupings have more or less stood the test of time suggests that Linnaeus picked a good characteristic on which to name his classification of the major groups of insects.

  • $\begingroup$ For the most part most of biology is History.. $\endgroup$
    – shigeta
    Mar 22, 2012 at 10:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @shigeta: Arguably, most of everything is history :). But this is particularly true for taxonomy, for sure. $\endgroup$
    – Gaurav
    Mar 23, 2012 at 6:43

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