Lipases have key roles in insect lipid acquisition, storage and mobilisation and are also fundamental to many physiological processes underpinning insect reproduction, development, defence from pathogens and oxidative stress, and pheromone signalling. We have screened the recently sequenced genomes of five species from four orders of holometabolous insects, the dipterans Drosophila melanogaster and Anopheles gambiae, the hymenopteran Apis mellifera, the moth Bombyx mori and the beetle Tribolium castaneum, for the six major lipase families that are also found in other organisms. The two most numerous families in the insects, the neutral and acid lipases, are also the main families in mammals, albeit not in Caenorhabditis elegans, plants or microbes. Total numbers of the lipases vary two-fold across the five insect species, from numbers similar to those in mammals up to numbers comparable to those seen in C. elegans. Whilst there is a high degree of orthology with mammalian lipases in the other four families, the great majority of the insect neutral and acid lipases have arisen since the insect orders themselves diverged. Intriguingly, about 10% of the insect neutral and acid lipases have lost motifs critical for catalytic function. Examination of the length of lid and loop regions of the neutral lipase sequences suggest that most of the insect lipases lack triacylglycerol (TAG) hydrolysis activity, although the acid lipases all have intact cap domains required for TAG hydrolysis. We have also reviewed the sequence databases and scientific literature for insights into the expression profiles and functions of the insect neutral and acid lipases and the orthologues of the mammalian adipose triglyceride lipase which has a pivotal role in lipid mobilisation. These data suggest that some of the acid and neutral lipase diversity may be due to a requirement for rapid accumulation of dietary lipids. The different roles required of lipases at the four discrete life stages of holometabolous insects may also contribute to the diversity of lipases required by insects. In addition, insects use lipases to perform roles for which there are no correlates in mammals, including as yolk and male accessory gland proteins.