How Do You Determine What Kind of Bug This Is?


Quick Answer

Dichotomous keys are among the more effective tools for identifying an insect. Field guides are also helpful for identification, especially after identifying the general type of insect.

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There are over 1 million species of insects, accounting for over half of all living things. More species of insects exist but as yet are unknown to science. Dichotomous keys present an efficient way of identifying many types of organisms. A dichotomous key is a series of paired, distinguishing factors, leading a user to arrive at a positive identification. Some insect keys begin by ascertaining whether the organism in question is indeed an insect by directing the user to determine if the animal has six legs and three body segments.

If the organism is definitely an insect, wing structure is an excellent place to start with a key. For example, a dichotomous key might ask if the insect has one or two pairs of wings. If two pairs are present, the next step is to observe whether both pairs have the same texture or if the first pair is hard or rigid. For an insect with a rigid first wing pair, it is important to note if the wings meet in a straight line. Rigid top wings meeting in a straight line indicate the insect is a beetle. Next, a more specific dichotomous key dealing directly with beetles indicates the exact family, genus or species of beetle.

If an insect is immediately identifiable as a specific type, such as moth, beetle or fly, a field guide is useful in identification. Field guides have descriptions and drawings or photographs to aid in identification but are less helpful without some basic knowledge of the organism in question.

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