Insect heritable symbionts have proven to be ubiquitous, based on molecular screening of various insect lineages. Recently, molecular and experimental approaches have yielded an immensely richer understanding of their diverse biological roles, resulting in a burgeoning research literature. Increasingly, commonalities and intermediates are being discovered between categories of symbionts once considered distinct: obligate mutualists that provision nutrients, facultative mutualists that provide protection against enemies or stress, and symbionts such as Wolbachia that manipulate reproductive systems. Among the most far-reaching impacts of widespread heritable symbiosis is that it may promote speciation by increasing reproductive and ecological isolation of host populations, and it effectively provides a means for transfer of genetic information among host lineages. In addition, insect symbionts provide some of the extremes of cellular genomes, including the smallest and the fastest evolving, raising new questions about the limits of evolution of life.