A simple way to tell insects apart - Anika Hazra
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“Keep Ponds Clean Or Frogs Gets Sick.”
We can use the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) as an example of how to classify an organism using taxonomy. Here is how this species falls into each taxonomic level:
Species: Solenopsis invicta
The hierarchy starts out very general at Kingdom and more specific information is gained about the organism the further down the hierarchy we go, up until we reach Species. All insects form a Class of their own called Insecta and all insects belong to the same Phylum (Arthropoda) and Kingdom (Animalia). The major groups of insects can be seen within the Order, which is why we focus on this level for the basics of learning how to identify insects.
There are many ways that we can identify different groups of insects. It is best to consider as many physical characteristics as possible. Luckily for us, the mouthparts are pretty reliable for distinguishing between the major insect groups.
Ants belong to the Hymenoptera order, but if we want to identify an insect even further to its family, genus, or species, we need to look really closely at the rest of the insect’s body, as well as its mouthparts. Knowing where the insect lives and what other animals and plants it interacts with also helps in the identification process.
Here’s a list of the most common insect orders with their common names and mouthpart types:
Coleoptera (beetles) – chewing
Diptera (flies) – sponging (non-biting), piercing-sucking (biting)
Odonata (dragonflies) - chewing
Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps) – chewing (ants), chewing-lapping (bees and wasps)
Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) - siphoning
Hemiptera (true bugs*) – piercing-sucking
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, katydids and crickets) – chewing
Want to learn the details of how insects use their mouthparts to eat? Check out this site or this one. At the University of Kentucky, the Department of Entomology also provides a breakdown of mouthparts for master gardeners. North Carolina State University includes drawings and photos of the different components that make up mouthparts.
If you’re interested in learning how to identify insects, here are some other useful links to get you started, including this one and this one.
*The Hemiptera order is very diverse, containing a lot of insects that don’t really look very similar to each other. This group is otherwise known as the “true bugs,” and they’re distinct from other insect orders because of their piercing-sucking mouthpart type and their front wings. All true bugs are insects, but not all insects are true bugs!
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