All organisms are exposed to changes in their environment throughout their life cycle. When confronted with these changes, they adjust their development and physiology to ensure that they can produce the functional structures necessary for survival and reproduction. While some traits are remarkably invariant, or robust, across environmental conditions, others show high degrees of variation, known as plasticity. Generally, developmental processes that establish cell identity are thought to be robust to environmental perturbation, while those relating to body and organ growth show greater degrees of plasticity. However, examples of plastic patterning and robust organ growth demonstrate that this is not a hard-and-fast rule.In this review, we explore how the developmental context and the gene regulatory mechanisms underlying trait formation determine the impacts of the environment on development in insects. Furthermore, we outline future issues that need to be resolved to understand how the structure of signaling networks defines whether a trait displays plasticity or robustness.