The restricted Arctic insect fauna is usually explained by a lack of recolonization since the last glacial period, inadequate supply of suitable resources, or insufficient adaptation to such a harsh environment. These hypotheses and others that attempt to explain the latitudinal gradient of species distributions and abundance are reviewed. Arctic habitats available to insects are strongly heterogeneous, requiring a similarly diverse array of adaptive responses, characteristic of those species that have colonized and survived in such a stressful climate. Important adaptations in morphology (size, wings), behavior (activity patterns, thermoregulation), life cycles, and ecophysiology (cold hardiness, anaerobiosis, desiccation resistance) are discussed. The current focus of global climate change research on polar regions is identified, particularly the opportunity to study fundamental ecological processes and spatial dynamics in the relatively simple Arctic ecosystems.