The social analysis of insects has challenged our concepts of sociability, intentionality and language, while investigations of their habitats have informed how we construct and manage public space. Insect knowledge including, but not limited to, entomological expertise – has been integral to the expansion of empire, the emergence of secular science, and in the managerial revolution that linked technology to agricultural improvement. Reading insects as hosts, vectors and companions of science, this special issue introduction opens up the epistemic, biopolitical and social dimensions of human-insect connections. Drawing insight from studies into the material culture of science, postcolonial geographies and a burgeoning literature on human-animal relations, we invite readers to consider how practices and products of science are made up of encounters between scientists and insects. By parsing these intersections, we can begin to understand the kinds of knowledge made possible and elusive by insects’ capacity to connect and carry, inscribe and destabilize, disgust and inspire. Insects, we suggest, are not only good to think with because of the analogies one might draw to human life and social order. Thinking with insects is foremost a task of theoretical innovation, one that has allowed us to re-examine how life produces space, time and history, and to intensify entanglements of ecological, institutional and experimental relations.