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Bug Identification Guide to Common Insects (With Photos)

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What kind of bug is this? This bug identification guide will help!

What kind of bug is this? This bug identification guide will help!

How to Use This Guide

If there's a new bug in your life and you want to identify it, you're in the right place. Here you will find photographs and descriptions of some of the most commonly encountered bugs, insects, and similar arthropods.

It's easy to get started—just scroll down and match your bug with one of the photos in this guide. If it's a close but not perfect match, you will have a good place to start as you refine your search on the internet.

This bug identification guide is much more than just a collection of photos. For every species listed, this guide will tell you the following essential information:

  • Does this bug sting or bite?
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden?
  • What does it eat?
  • What is its scientific name?
  • What interesting traits or behaviors does the bug exhibit?

If you still have questions or are still trying to identify the bug you found, there are good internet sources that can give you more detail. Some of these sources are listed in the "Resource" section at the end of the guide.

Quick Bug Identification Guide: Color, Size, Wings, Legs

Scroll to the right if you can't see the last column above.

Color# of LegsSizeWings Yes/No# in This Guide

Brown or black

6

Less than one inch

Yes

1, 18, 23

Brown or black

6

One inch or more

Yes

24, 25, 27, 28

Brown or black

6

Less than one inch

No

5, 11, 22

Brown or black

6

One inch or more

No

10, 16, 30

Brown or black

8 or more

Less than one inch

No

31

Brown or black

8 or more

One inch or more

No

6, 7, 8

Green

6

One inch or more

Yes

3, 25, 28

Green

6

One inch or more

No

16

Red or yellow markings

6

Less than one inch

Yes

29

Red or yellow markings

6

One inch or more

Yes

2, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27

Red or yellow markings

6

Less than one inch

No

4, 9,

Red or yellow markings

6

One inch or more

No

10

Red or yellow markings

8 or more

One inch or more

No

7, 13, 14, 15

Moth flies are common bathroom and basement pests.

Moth flies are common bathroom and basement pests.

How to Identify These 31 Commonly Found Insects and Arthropods

1. Moth Fly (Family Psychodidae)

If you have a bathroom or a basement, chances are good you have seen these little insects on the wall. As the name suggests, they look like little moths but are actually flies in the awesomely named family Psychodidae. The larvae breed in drains and even if your house is clean and your drains are well-kept, you may see a moth fly or two. They are harmless and won't hurt anyone, although you may have the urge to get rid of them just because they're bugs and they're in your house.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No, this insect is harmless.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? Yes, although it won't hurt anything.
  • What does it eat? The larva eats bits of gunk from inside your drains.
  • What is the scientific name? Family Psychodidae (!)
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? Up close, it resembles a tiny moth.
A cow killer, aka a velvet ant, has a very powerful sting.

A cow killer, aka a velvet ant, has a very powerful sting.

2. Cow Killer (Family Mutillidae)

Of all the bugs identified in this guide, cow killers are just about the scariest. They're also called "velvet ants," but they're actually a species of wingless wasp. They get their common name from the ferocity of their sting, which is supposed to be painful enough to kill a cow. There are many different kinds, ranging from small ant-sized species to intimidating insects over an inch in length. Some have white fur and resemble a bit of fluff from a thistle.

If you find a cow killer, take a picture but do not try to pick it up!

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? Yes! These insects have a very powerful sting.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? Not usually, unless there's a population explosion.
  • What does it eat? This insect preys on spiders, caterpillars, and other insects.
  • What is the scientific name? Many species, all in the family Mutillidae.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? Cow killers are predators who prowl on the ground. Their closest relatives are wasps, not ants.
Katydids have leaf-like wings.

Katydids have leaf-like wings.

3. Katydid (Family Tettigoniidae)

Late on warm summer nights, you will hear katydids and related bugs making a variety of chirps and buzzes. These are thought to be mating calls, usually made by the male trying to attract and locate the female. Some species have a call that sounds like "katy did!" hence the common name. Katydids are strong jumpers and can also fly; they are attracted to light. You can identify these bugs by their green leaf-like wings and long, powerful hind legs.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No, even though they can grow quite large.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? Not usually.
  • What does it eat? Katydids thrive on a plant-based diet.
  • What is the scientific name? There are many species, most in the family Tettigoniidae.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? These insects are masters of disguise. Some tropical species are so well-camouflaged that their leaf-like wings have fake brown spots and holes!
Silent But Deadly: A Well-Camouflaged Assassin Bug

Silent But Deadly: A Well-Camouflaged Assassin Bug

Arilus cristatus, aka the amazing Wheel Bug, a member of the Reduviidae family.

Arilus cristatus, aka the amazing Wheel Bug, a member of the Reduviidae family.

4. Assassin Bug (Family Reduviidae)

Assassin—or ambush—bug identification is pretty easy. . . it's finding them that's difficult. Assassin bugs are the death-dealing ninjas of the insect world, and their camouflage and stealth are legendary. Some kinds are known as ambush bugs: these hide inside flowers, waiting to grab and kill flies, butterflies, and even bees and wasps. These insects kill by using a large, hypodermic-like "beak." They grab their prey, stab it with their beak, and inject a liquifying poison. Once the prey is dead and its insides are liquified, they suck everything out through their beak. Nature does not mess around!

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? Yes, larger species can give you a painful jab.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No—assassin bugs help control pest species and caterpillars, so leave them be.
  • What does it eat? All kinds of other insects.
  • What is the scientific name? Many species in the family Reduviidae.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? Assassin bugs are part of the order Hymenoptera, the "true bugs." This means, among other things, that they don't metamorphose like butterflies or beetles—the young versions are called "nymphs" and look a lot like the adults.
Earwigs look fierce but they're completely harmless.

Earwigs look fierce but they're completely harmless.

5. Earwigs (Family Forficulidae)

Earwigs look fierce, thanks to those huge "pincers" on the tail. But this bug is completely harmless. The pincers are used in mating, and unless it's an absolutely huge earwig and you put your little finger right in the middle of of their pincers, they won't get to you. Note that these are not like the mandibles that some insects, like the stag beetle, use for actual combat and self-protection.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No. Those pincers are mainly used in mating.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? Not usually. They are seldom a pest, though if there are enough of them, they can do some damage to leaves.
  • What does it eat? Plants, smaller insects, and organic matter.
  • What is the scientific name? Earwigs make their own order, Dermaptera.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? Earwigs are the only large group that have well-developed "pincers" on the tail instead of on the head as mouth-parts. You can almost always identify this bug by these unique pincers.
The brown recluse spider usually has a violin-shaped mark on its back; for this reason it's sometimes called the "fiddleback spider."

The brown recluse spider usually has a violin-shaped mark on its back; for this reason it's sometimes called the "fiddleback spider."

Where you'll find brown recluse spiders.

Where you'll find brown recluse spiders.

6. Brown Recluse Spiders (Family Sicariidae)

Recluse spiders get a lot of bad press, and some of it is well-deserved. The most common and widespread recluse spider in North America is the brown recluse, species Loxosceles reclusa. There are other Loxosceles recluse spiders in the Southwest and Hawaii, and they all have similar habits, living in dark corners and prowling around at night looking for prey. They are brown/gray, medium-sized, and inconspicuous, so coming in contact with them can happen without you knowing it.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? Yes. Best to avoid this one if possible. Brown recluse bites can sometimes result in run-away tissue destruction, which can occur over several weeks. In very rare, extreme cases, the destruction involves muscles and tendons and can require reconstructive surgery.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No, but it does kill and eat household pests like roaches.
  • What does it eat? Other insects.
  • What is the scientific name? Loxosceles reclusa.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? This spider usually has a violin-shaped mark on its back; for this reason it's sometimes called the "fiddleback spider." You can usually identify this bug by this unique feature, but be very careful whenever you're dealing with a large brown spider in your basement!

To learn more, read Brown Recluse Identification and Control.

Black widows They spin tangled webs in dark places and eat smaller insects.

Black widows They spin tangled webs in dark places and eat smaller insects.

7. Black Widow Spider (Genus Latrodectus)

Along with the brown recluse, the black widow spider is one of the two truly dangerous poisonous spiders common in North America. There are several "widow" spiders in the US, and some of them are very beautiful, but the black widow is the one you are most likely to encounter. These arachnids are large and strong-looking and most have a distinct red hourglass on the underside of the abdomen. They spin tangled webs in dark places and eat smaller insects.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? Yes. The bite of this spider does its damage through neurotoxins, which cause painful cramping and mental confusion. This spider's bite can be fatal, but only small children and older people are in serious risk of death from a black widow bite.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No. Like all spiders, black widows help control pest insects.
  • What does it eat? Smaller insects.
  • What is the scientific name? Latrodectus species.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? Black widows belong to a group called "tangle-web spiders." Their webs are disorganized and wild, the opposite of the neat geometrical webs of orb-weavers.
Despite their name, house centipedes do not actually have a hundred legs.

Despite their name, house centipedes do not actually have a hundred legs.

8. House Centipede (Family Scutigeridae)

Many people imagine this little animal when they think of a bug. With their multiple pairs of legs and scurrying behavior, house centipedes are among the least lovable inhabitants of your basement. But the creepy appearance and habits of this bug should not lead you to go to war against them. Brown or house centipedes eat all kinds of nasty pest insects, including cockroach eggs. If you have these bugs in your basement, you should be happy that your centipedes are on the job, keeping the really nasty bug population down.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No, although some large species in the Southwest do have a poisonous bite.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No, they are beneficial.
  • What does it eat? All kinds of nasty stuff.
  • What is the scientific name? There are many different species; house centipedes are in the genus Scutigera.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? Despite their name, house centipedes do not actually have a hundred legs. You can identify these bugs by their speed, long thin body, and multiple legs and antennae.
Identifying boxelder bugs is pretty easy—if you have red-and-black bugs clustered around your house, that's them!

Identifying boxelder bugs is pretty easy—if you have red-and-black bugs clustered around your house, that's them!

9. Boxelder Bugs (Family Rhopalidae)

Boxelder bugs are also sometimes called red bugs or red stainers because they have red "juice" in their body that will stain if you squish them. These insects often overwinter in sheltered parts of your basement or garage; on warm days, they will sometimes all come out to enjoy the warm weather, and you will find them all over the place. They're completely harmless and actually quite beautiful if you look at them closely (and objectively).

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No, although it can be a little freaky when they suddenly show up on your walls.
  • What does it eat? These insects suck plant juices through their pointy "tongue" or proboscis.
  • What is the scientific name? Boisea trivittata.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? These insects hibernate in dark corners and come out when the sun warms them. Identifying boxelder bugs is pretty easy—if you have red-and-black bugs clustered around your house, that's them!
If you crush a blister beetle and the juice gets on your skin, you will develop blisters.

If you crush a blister beetle and the juice gets on your skin, you will develop blisters.

10. Blister Beetle (Family Cantharidae)

Blister beetles belong to a large group of beetles that have caustic juice in their bodies. If you crush one of these bugs and the juice gets on your skin, you will develop blisters where the juice touches you. The reaction is not serious, but it can be irritating, especially for gardeners who might come into contact with a considerable number of these bugs.

Not all blister beetle bodies have patterns, which makes identification a little tricky, but all blister beetles have a soft body that extends beyond the upper wing covers ("elytra").

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No, but the body juices cause blisters.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No.
  • What does it eat? This insect feeds on plants and leaves.
  • What is the scientific name? Blister beetles are in the family Cantharidae.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? One type of blister beetle is the legendary "Spanish Fly," the source of an alleged aphrodisiac.
All beetles start out as grubs, and very large beetles have very large grubs.

All beetles start out as grubs, and very large beetles have very large grubs.

Adult "June Bug" Beetle

Adult "June Bug" Beetle

11. Lawn Grubs (Family Scarabaeidae)

The white grubs you sometimes find while digging in your garden or lawn are the larvae of the brown "June bug" that flitter around lights in early summer. Grubs are essentially "beetle caterpillars," and when they are done feeding on the roots of your grass and other plants, they will form a pupa and then hatch into adult beetles.

Since all beetles start out as grubs, it follows that very large beetles have very large grubs. Tropical species can have grubs as large as your hand!

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No/
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? Yes, beetle grubs can do damage to your lawn by eating the roots of the grass.
  • What does it eat? The roots of many plants.
  • What is the scientific name? This kind of grub belongs to the genus Phyllophaga.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? Not many people make the connection between grubs in their lawn and June bugs around their porch lights!
Sawfly larvae usually feed in groups and hold their tail ends in the air.

Sawfly larvae usually feed in groups and hold their tail ends in the air.

12. Sawfly Larvae (Family Tenthredinidae)

Sawflies are confusing bugs. Despite the name they are actually wasps, not flies— but they cannot sting. Their larvae look just like caterpillars and they eat leaves, but they won't turn into a butterfly or moth. These cool bug facts may not matter to people whose plants are under attack.

There are many species of sawfly, and the larvae eat many different plants. You can always tell if they're sawfly larvae and not caterpillars if they lack a pair of clasping prolegs on the rear end.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? Yes, on many plants and trees.
  • What does it eat? Several species, especially willows.
  • What is the scientific name? Family Tenthredinidae.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? These bugs usually feed in groups and hold their tail ends in the air.
The iconic monarch butterfly has an equally iconic striped caterpillar.

The iconic monarch butterfly has an equally iconic striped caterpillar.

The Big, Beautiful Monarch Butterfly

The Big, Beautiful Monarch Butterfly

13. Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar, Danaus plexippus

The iconic monarch butterfly has an equally iconic striped caterpillar. This species feeds only on one kind of plant, milkweeds, and it's thought that the poisonous sap of the milkweed gives both the caterpillars and the butterflies protection from predators. Monarch caterpillars are easily found on milkweed throughout the summer, and the big orange adult butterflies are familiar to nearly everyone in North America.

Please consider planting milkweed in your yard or garden to help the population of this gorgeous insect! You can get free seed from many sites online.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No.
  • What does it eat? The leaves of the milkweed plant.
  • What is the scientific name? Danaus plexippus.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? This species is well-known for the spectacular mass migrations and hibernation that the adults undergo every winter.

Do Your Part to Help Save Monarchs!

By simply planting a few milkweed seeds in your yard or garden, you can offer monarchs a rest-stop along their journey. If you're lucky, you may find beautiful monarch caterpillars munching away on the leaves. This easy guide shows you how.

The Black Swallowtail caterpillar is sometimes confused with the monarch.

The Black Swallowtail caterpillar is sometimes confused with the monarch.

14. Black Swallowtail Caterpillar, Papilio polyxenes

This beautiful green and black caterpillar is sometimes confused with the monarch, but they actually look quite different and feed on totally different plants. The black swallowtail is member of a very large group of butterflies, the family Papilionidae, which all share some very interesting habits and features. Chief among these is the presence in the caterpillar of an organ called "osmeteria," a red, forked organ that looks like a little snake's tongue. The caterpillar can stick this out from behind its head whenever it feels threatened, which could startle a predator. On top of everything, the osmeteria smells like rotten fruit!

The adult butterfly is a big, beautiful butterfly with deep black wings with blue spots.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No, this caterpillar is completely harmless.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No, not usually.
  • What does it eat? Parsley, carrots, and dill.
  • What is the scientific name? Papilio polyxenes.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? In addition to the cool osmeteria, the baby caterpillars look just like bird poop.
The yellow wooly bear caterpillar's fur can irritate sensitive skin.

The yellow wooly bear caterpillar's fur can irritate sensitive skin.

15. Yellow Woolly Bear, Spilosoma virginica

This is one of the most frequently seen caterpillars in the Midwest, where it shows up in the late summer on roadside weeds. The caterpillar's fur can irritate sensitive skin, especially when it's woven into the cocoon.

This species is seldom a pest, since it doesn't eat typical garden plants. The adult is a lovely pure white moth with orange and black spots on its body.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No, although the fur can be irritating.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No.
  • What does it eat? A wide variety of roadside plants and "weeds."
  • What is the scientific name? Spilosoma virginica.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? This caterpillar has several color morphs, from very pale yellow to dark orange-brown.
bug-identification-2

16. Imperial Moth Caterpillar, Eacles imperialis

This huge caterpillar becomes an even huger moth, the impressive imperial moth. The caterpillar eats the leaves of maples, poplars, oaks, and other trees, and they stay up in the branches until late summer, when they come down to find a place to dig into the ground to pupate. Then they are often seen lumbering along on the ground. At this point they are often more brown than green, and very, very fat.

The adult moth is perfectly camouflaged as a large, yellow-and-brown drying leaf.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No. It's huge, but it's harmless.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No.
  • What does it eat? The leaves of maples, oaks, poplars, and other trees.
  • What is the scientific name? Eacles imperialis.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? This caterpillar is usually bright green, but occasionally individuals will be found in a beautiful deep orange-brown.

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There is hardly a rural, urban, or suburban locale that doesn't have at least a few of these cabbage white butterflies  fluttering around.

There is hardly a rural, urban, or suburban locale that doesn't have at least a few of these cabbage white butterflies fluttering around.

17. Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae

Perhaps the most common butterfly in North America, if not the world, is the plain and unassuming cabbage white butterfly. There is hardly a rural, urban, or suburban locale that doesn't have at least a few of these butterflies fluttering around in the heat of a summer day. They are simply very good at putting up with humans and their disrupted habitats.

The caterpillar is pale green and very well camouflaged on cabbage and broccoli leaves where they feed. They are a true garden pest, eating holes in the leaves of a wide variety of cruciferous plants. If your spinach, lettuce, cabbage, and kale has big holes seemingly from out of nowhere, you can bet you have the sneaky little caterpillars of this species to blame.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? Yes, a major pest.
  • What does it eat? Seemingly everything.
  • What is the scientific name? Pieris rapae.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? The cabbage white occurs throughout the world. It has many close relatives, and some are very rare and very beautiful.
Clothes moths are a major household pest, but it's not the moths that do the damage, it's their caterpillars.

Clothes moths are a major household pest, but it's not the moths that do the damage, it's their caterpillars.

18. Clothes Moth (Family Tineidae)

Clothes moths are a major household pest. If you have stored woolens or items made of other natural or animal fibers, there's always a chance you will take them out and find that little holes have been eaten in them. It's probably the work of one of a few species of little gray moths, but it's not the moths that do the damage (the moths eat very little, if at all). It's their caterpillars that eat the fibers and create those holes. They often make little webby nests and nestle in, happily ruining your sweaters.

Control of these pests is generally accomplished with naptha (moth balls) or other deterrents.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? Yes, in the home.
  • What does it eat? Natural or animal fibers like wool and mohair.
  • What is the scientific name? These moths are in the family Tineidae.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? These moths have adapted to live with humans and feed on man-made objects.
Yellow jacket wasps are most likely to sting in late summer and early fall, when the drive to store food makes the wasps quite aggressive.

Yellow jacket wasps are most likely to sting in late summer and early fall, when the drive to store food makes the wasps quite aggressive.

19. Yellow Jacket Wasp (Family Vespidae)

Yellow jackets are a kind of wasp that lives in large nests, often underground or in sheltered places. These bugs are predators and scavengers, grabbing caterpillars and other insects or feeding on rotten fruit. They bring food back to the nest, where it's fed to the growing larvae. The nest begins small in the early summer, then gets quite large over the following months until September, when the drive to store food makes the wasps quite aggressive. This is when most people get stung.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? Yes, this insect has a very powerful sting.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? It's a nuisance in the late summer.
  • What does it eat? Other insects as well as rotten fruit.
  • What is the scientific name? These wasps are in the genus Vespula.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? The organized nests of these wasps are marvels of engineering efficiency.
Carpenter bees look like bumblebees but they don't sting.

Carpenter bees look like bumblebees but they don't sting.

20. Carpenter Bee (Family Apidae)

Carpenter bees look like bumblebees. They are big and burly, with black and yellow "fur." But they are quite different—for one thing, they do not sting. For another, they carve out tunnels in wood, and that's where their larvae grow into adults. You can tell if you're dealing with a carpenter bee if it has a shiny abdomen and hovers in front of your eaves (where they love to make their holes).

Carpenter bees are harmless, but the holes they dig can introduce moisture into the wood structure of your home, which is definitely not what you want.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? Yes, in your home.
  • What does it eat? Nectar and pollen.
  • What is the scientific name? Carpenter bees are in the genus Xylocopa.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? The carpenter bee constructs several cells in each tunnel, and, before sealing off each cell, stocks it with a big ball of pollen for the larvae to eat.
They say bumblebees shouldn't be able to fly, but they refuse to listen.

They say bumblebees shouldn't be able to fly, but they refuse to listen.

21. Bumblebee (Family Apidae)

It's been said that science has proven that bumblebees shouldn't be able to fly, but they refuse to listen. These big, clumsy bees are related to the comparatively prim and proper honeybee but live in smaller nests and lack the sophisticated communication system. Bumblebees do sting, but their sting is not particularly severe.

Bumblebees with orange markings, like the one pictured, are relatively rare; most are banded with black and yellow, the universal "watch out for me!" colors of the animal world.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? Yes.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No.
  • What does it eat? Pollen and nectar.
  • What is the scientific name? Bumblebees, like honeybees, are in the family Apidae.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? Many other insects try to look like bees in order to scare away predators. Flies, beetles, and even moths mimic bumblebees and wasps.
They may look a little like a fish, but silverfish have six legs, antennae, and body segments, just like any other insect.

They may look a little like a fish, but silverfish have six legs, antennae, and body segments, just like any other insect.

22. Silverfish (Family Lepismatidae)

They may not look or act like it, but silverfish are insects, in the same class as butterflies and grasshoppers and beetles. You can identify this bug by its body, which is slippery and shiny and shaped like a fish, hence its common name. It may look a little like a fish, but this bug has six legs, antennae, and body segments, just like any other insect. The silverfish is a nocturnal, low-level pest of urban dwellings—you have probably seen them on occasion in a drain or on the bathroom floor, where they have been caught out in the light. They're totally harmless, and they don't leave a mess or destroy anything, plus they're just about impossible to catch and kill, so most people just let them be.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? Not really.
  • What does it eat? Carbohydrates, especially bits of sugar or sweets.
  • What is the scientific name? Lepisma saccharina.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? The scientific name of this bug reflects its love of sweet things.
On warm late-spring nights, millions of mayflies will hatch all at the same time only to mate, lay eggs, and die within 24 hours.

On warm late-spring nights, millions of mayflies will hatch all at the same time only to mate, lay eggs, and die within 24 hours.

23. Mayflies (Family Ephemeridae)

Sometimes called the "love bug," adult mayflies exist to do just one thing, and it ain't the hula. On warm late-spring nights, millions of mayflies will hatch all at the same time only to mate, lay eggs, and die within 24 hours. Sometimes these hatches are simply enormous, with countless bugs clogging car radiators and smearing windshields to the point where driving is nearly impossible. Then they're gone, the fertilized eggs left behind hatch into mayfly larvae, and the process begins again.

The familial name of the mayfly, Ephemeridae, is a lovely reference to the insect's here-and-gone lifespan. You can identify this bug by the way it holds its delicate wings vertically over its back.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No.
  • What does it eat? The adult does not eat at all; the water-dwelling larvae eat algae, detritus, and the occasional fly larva.
  • What is the scientific name? Family Ephemeridae.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? Thanks to the huge "hatch" events, mayflies have been noticed for centuries by scientists and artists; the German engraver Albrecht Dürer's The Holy Family With the Dragonfly gets the name wrong, but includes a mayfly.
You can identify a dobsonfly by the flat leathery wings and giant pincers (if it's a male).

You can identify a dobsonfly by the flat leathery wings and giant pincers (if it's a male).

24. Dobsonfly (Family Corydalidae)

The males of this fearsome-looking bug are legitimately terrifying. They're huge, with big leathery wings and simply gigantic pincers, and they like to flutter around lights late at night. The females are similar but lack the huge mouth-parts that make the males so intimidating. Despite their look, though, male dobsonflies are basically harmless. By the time they maneuver those big pincers around to bite anything, the victim has simply moved out of the way, and in any case the muscles are too feeble to do much harm. The females, however, are another story—they have short, hard mandibles that can give you a serious pinch. And the larvae are beyond scary.

You can identify this bug by the size, flat leathery wings, and giant pincers (if it's a male).

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? Males, no; females, yes; larvae YES.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No.
  • What does it eat? The larvae are predaceous in streams.
  • What is the scientific name? Family Corydalidae.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? The ferocious, freaky-looking larva of this insect is known as a "hellgrammite." They are prized as bait by freshwater fishermen.
Cicadas are famous for their mating call.

Cicadas are famous for their mating call.

25. Cicadas (Family Cicadidae)

Cicadas are among the most interesting of all insects. Like mayflies, they often hatch out all at once, creating a huge mess and one heck of a racket with their characteristic whining mating call. The cool thing about these bugs is that they go for years and years between hatches—some species for more than two decades. During this time you won't find one adult anywhere, until one morning they're clinging from every leaf and twig, making the sidewalk crunchy and slick. They mate, lay eggs, and die. The larvae burrow underground, eating tree roots for another twenty years.

Another species, known as "dog-day" cicadas, have a more manageable one-year life cycle. These guys are green and brown and make that inescapable whining mating call in late summer. You can identify this bug by the thick body and tough, transparent wings.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No, although they look like they might.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No, but they are loud.
  • What does it eat? The adults pierce twigs and suck sap.
  • What is the scientific name? Family Cicadidae.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? Cicadas are basically giant aphids that can sing.
The Familiar Larval Shell of the Cicada

The Familiar Larval Shell of the Cicada

The Cicada Killer Wasp

The Cicada Killer Wasp

26. Cicada Killer Wasp, Sphecius speciosus

Cicada killers are just about the largest wasp in North America. You will start to see them around July, or whenever you start hearing cicadas. As you might guess from their name, cicada killers have one role in life: to kill cicadas. They find them, sting them, drag them back to their nest, and feed them to their babies. Cicadas are also sometimes called locusts (real locusts are a kind of grasshopper), and they have no real defense against cicada killers other than their sheers numbers when they hatch out en masse.

Lately, some people have started to confuse cicada killers with "murder hornets," the invasive wasps that started showing up in the Pacific Northwest. These huge wasps do look a bit like cicada killers, but they are not closely related and have completely different habits. Cicada killers are solitary wasps, for one thing, while the Asian giant hornet lives in big nests. Cicada killers almost never sting people and are not aggressive, despite their scary appearance; Asian giant hornets will most definitely sting you and are highly aggressive. Their stings kill dozens of people every year.

So if you see a big black-and-yellow hornet patrolling your yard or digging in the ground, don't panic! It's almost certainly a cicada killer, fulfilling its natural role. It will leave you alone (unless you're a cicada).

The Facts:

  • Does it sting? Yes, although they rarely sting people.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? Not really, although sometimes their nests can mess up your lawn.
  • What does it eat? Cicadas.
  • What is the scientific name? Sphecius speciosus.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? Cicada killers can grab an adult cicada, which are large strong insects, sting it, and drag it to their nest.
bug-identification-2

This Great Article on Owlcation is All About Bees and Wasps

Have a look at this guide to bees and wasps of North America -- it has photos, facts, and identification notes for some of the most commonly encountered members of the order Hymenoptera. Before you kill or panic, have a look at this guide to see if you really should be concerned about the bee or wasp that has entered your life.

Carolina Grasshopper (Family Acrididae)

Carolina Grasshopper (Family Acrididae)

27. Carolina Grasshopper (Family Acrididae)

In the late summer and early fall, these big grasshoppers come out and become one of the most common insects on gravel roads and trails. There are several kinds, but the basic design of these large insects is a perfectly camouflaged upper "wing" and brightly banded hind wings. When the insect jumps, it spreads those bright wings and glides for several feet, at which time it looks very much like a butterfly. Then it lands, snaps the camo back into place, and essentially vanishes. This kind of disruptive "flash" coloration is thought to startle and confuse predators. You can identify this bug pretty easily by this feature.

These insects are harmless and can be handled safely, although you have to catch them first, and once you do they will likely spit brown "tobacco juice" on you. This is a non-toxic but unpleasant concoction designed to deter predators (like you).

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? No.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No.
  • What does it eat? The adult eats grass and roadside plants.
  • What is the scientific name? Dissosteira carolina.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? For some reason, these grasshoppers are "attacked" by a species of butterfly called the "buckeye." You will sometimes find a buckeye harassing a carolina grasshopper as it sits on the side of a gravel road.
Specimen of Dissosteira carolina showing banded wings (uniprot.org/taxonomy/37265)

Specimen of Dissosteira carolina showing banded wings (uniprot.org/taxonomy/37265)

All mantises are predatory on other insects and females have the well-known habit of eating the male after mating.

All mantises are predatory on other insects and females have the well-known habit of eating the male after mating.

28. Praying Mantis (Family Mantidae)

The praying mantis seems more alien than insect, with its weird buggy eyes and rare ability to turn its head to look over its shoulder. The most familiar species is Stagmomantis carolina, but there are many, many different kinds. Some tropical species look exactly like flowers. All mantises are predatory on other insects and the females have the well-known habit of eating the male after mating (he's not much use for anything else by then).

The female lays a foamy-looking mass of eggs in the late summer, and the tiny baby mantises hatch out in the spring. Their hatching is something to see, with dozens of tiny baby mantises (they resemble shrimp!) slithering out of the egg mass.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? Not really, although they will grab you with their claws if you harass them.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No, they are highly beneficial because they eat pest insects.
  • What does it eat? All kinds of insects.
  • What is the scientific name? The most common one is Stagmomantis carolina.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? Mantises are sometimes kept as pets, especially in Asia.
The amazing variety of flower flies, AKA hoverflies

The amazing variety of flower flies, AKA hoverflies

29. Hoverfly (Family Syrphidae)

Also sometimes called flower flies, hoverflies are one of the most fascinating groups of insects out there. You have almost certainly seen them, even though you may not know it. The reason for this is that flower flies are masters of disguise. They look and act so much like a stinging bee that it can be hard to tell the two apart—which, of course, is the idea. By mimicking bees in color, shape, sound, and flying habits, these totally harmless flies gain protection. The next time you are in your garden, look closely at the "bees" on your flowers. You'll almost certainly discover that a few of them are actually flower flies.

While it's true that these flies do not sting, it's still wise to avoid tempting fate by trying to catch them with your bare hands. It's possible that you're dealing with an actual bee...

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? Nope.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No, the larvae actually eat some pest species.
  • What does it eat? Adult hoverflies eat nectar and pollen.
  • What is the scientific name? The most common ones are in the family Syrphidae.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? They are some of the best mimics in the insect world, which is saying something.
Stag beetles get their name from their pincers, which look like the horns of a deer.

Stag beetles get their name from their pincers, which look like the horns of a deer.

30. Stag Beetle (Family Lucanidae)

Stag beetles get their name from their big pincers which, in some species, look like the horns of a male deer or stag. These big beetles have big larvae, grubs that live in rotting wood. Like the dobsonfly, the males (despite their big pincers) are not the ones you need to worry about—it's the females, who have short, strong mandibles that can easily draw blood. The males use their pincers to battle over females; often the goal of the fight is to pick up and toss the other off the branch. Stag beetles are sometimes attracted to lights and they're generally peaceful, slow-moving, and harmless.

While many beetles resemble the stag beetles, you can generally identify this bug by its size, shiny brown or black body, and sizable pincers. They often come to lights at night and can sometimes be found the next day, on their back, unable to flip over on their own. It's perfectly okay to help them!

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? The female can pinch pretty hard.
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? No.
  • What does it eat? Decaying wood and tree sap.
  • What is the scientific name? Lucanus species.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? These cool beetles have been used as amulets in the past.
Ticks, which are related to spiders, have eight legs.

Ticks, which are related to spiders, have eight legs.

31. Ticks (Order Ixodida)

Ticks are small arthropods that are related to spiders. They have eight legs, are usually brown or black, and are generally about the size of the head of a pin, though some can be larger, especially after a meal. Ticks live in grass and weeds and wait for an animal to come by, at which point they grab on and begin looking for a place to bite. Ticks suck blood in about the same way a mosquito does, with a needle-like beak, but unlike a mosquito they can't fly, so they need time. If you walk in long grass, check your skin thoroughly for ticks. It can take them nearly a day to decide where to bite so you have time to catch them before they do.

If there is a tick on you and it has its beak stuck in your skin, very gently use a pair of tweezers to grab the bug pull it straight back so the beak doesn't break off. Save the insect and take it to your doctor, because deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease, a rare but potentially serious condition. If caught early, Lyme disease can be cured.

The Facts:

  • Does it sting or bite? Yes, it bites and also feeds (sucks blood).
  • Is it a pest in your home or garden? Yes, they can be.
  • What does it eat? Blood from mammals and birds.
  • What is the scientific name? Order Ixodida.
  • What interesting facts or behaviors does it exhibit? Ticks are amazing animals with interesting habits, but most people just want to avoid them.

More Great Insect Articles on Owlcation

Do You Have Ants?

My quick and easy Ant Identification Guide will help you figure out if you have an infestation you should be concerned about!

Resources

The following sources were consulted for this guide:

National Geographic's Mantis Page

Uniprot's Taxonomy for Dissosteira carolina (Carolina Grasshopper)

Cicada Mania

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Jason Behm from Cebu, Philippines on December 18, 2018:

Cute insects. Some of them though. I enjoyed going through this article. Some I knew others don't. Perhaps they don't exist in the place where I live in.

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