Is it a True Bug or Just Another '67 Beetle? Who's What?

Copyright Thomas L Webster. All rights reserved.



In my experience, the second most commonly confused orders of insects are the Order Hemiptera (True Bugs) and the Order Coleoptera (Beetles and Weevils). Both of these orders are quite large and diverse. In fact, Coleoptera is the largest order of insects containing nearly 40% of all known insect species. Once you learn to recognize the key characteristics of the these 2 orders it will become easy to differentiate between true bugs and beetles/weevils.

Order Hemiptera   Order Coleoptera
Wings of a bug belonging to the family Miridae.
Elytra and hind wing of a ladybird beetle.
Order Hemiptera (True Bugs)...Hemiptera (hemi--one half; ptera--wing) refers to the fact that one half of the front wing is stiff and leathery while the remaining half of the front wing is thin and membranous. This is probably the most important single characteristic that differentiates true bugs from all other insects. To my knowledge, no other insect has wings like these. These front wings are known as "hemilytra".   Order Coleoptera (Beetles and Weevils)...Coleoptera (coleo--sheath; ptera--wing) have evolved front wings into completely hardened sheaths. Each front wing is called an "elytra" and the 2 elytra combined are called the "carapace". This is the primary characteristic that will identify beetles from other insects. It is important to note that the hind wing is always longer than the elytra and is folded under the elytra when the beetle is at rest.

Flying: Watching a suspected bug or beetle flying can be a very important clue as to the identity of the insect. The front wings and the hind wings of a true bug will be nearly the same size or the hind wing may be slightly shorter. True bugs will beat the front wings and the hind wings while flying and the wings will look about the same size while the bug is flying.

Beetles and weevils, on the other hand, do not beat the elytra while flying. The elytra are held rigidly to the side. Although the elytra do not beat while the beetle flies, the shape of the elytra adds to the aerodynamics of the beetle. Because the elytra never beat in flight, the hind wings are much longer than the elytra to make up for lift and the hind wings are easily observed to be much longer than the elytra while the beetle is in flight. (Note! There are some species of beetles that have elytra that are shorter than the folded hind wing. Do not mistake these for true bugs.)

Beak of a true bug in the family Miridae.

True bugs have a multisegmented beak through which they can suck plant juices or, in the case of predaceous true bugs, inject digestive enzymes into prey and then suck the body fluids from the prey. The number of segments in the beak can be a characteristic of the family to which the bug belongs. As can be seen, the antenna arise from the head.Because of their long, rigid snout, weevils are sometimes mistaken for true bugs. The long snout does resemble the beak of a true bug but a weevil's snout is continuous and unsegmented. The antenna on a weevil arises from the snout rather than from the head like true bugs.

OK. Now you should be able to distinguish between true bugs and beetles and weevils and, with these key characteristics, you should also be able to distinguish true bugs, beetles, and weevils from all other insect orders.

Copyright Thomas L Webster. All rights reserved.
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