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Garden Allies: True Bugs

Articles: Garden Allies: True Bugs

A jagged ambush bug (Phymata sp.) Illus: Craig Latker
Will the True Bug Stand Up
"Bug" is such a useful word. Annoying people "bug" us, spies plant "bugs," computers get "bugs," and, if we catch a "bug," we're sick. When it comes to the world of small insects, we often use "bug" as a catch-all, but the word has a more specific meaning in entomology, referring to just one order of insects, Hemiptera, distinguished from all other insects by the collective name "true bugs."

When a bug's common name is written as two words, such as assassin bug, stink bug, or ambush bug, it belongs to the suborder Heteroptera. If "bug" appears as the end of a single word, the creature belongs to a different group; for instance, ladybugs are beetles (Coleoptera), doodlebugs are antlion larvae (Neuroptera), and pillbugs are crustaceans, not insects. Other suborders were a later inclusion in Hemiptera, which may explain why their common names are written as one word. Similar rules apply in other insect orders, such as the flies: syrphid flies and house flies are true flies (Diptera), while a dragonfly is in the order Odonata, and ...

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