True Bugs: The Hemipterans

  • Includes cicadas, aphids, planthoppers, leafhoppers, shield bugs, and others.
  • Comprises 30,000-80,000 species of insects.
  • All hemipterans share a common arrangement of sucking mouthparts inside a proboscis which is capable of piercing tissues (usually plant tissues) and sucking out the liquids (typically sap).
  • Order Hemiptera is divided into 4 suborders: Auchenorrhyncha (cicadas, leafhoppers, treehoppers, planthoppers, and froghoppers); Sternorrhyncha (aphids, whiteflies and scale insects); Coleorrhyncha (Gondwana-distributed bugs), sometimes grouped with the Heteroptera to form the suborder Prosorrhyncha. Heteroptera is a group of 25,000 species of relatively large bugs, including the shield bugs, seed bugs, assassin bugs, flower bugs, sweetpotato bugs and the water bugs.
  • Cicadas

    • Cicadas are not harmful to humans, and they do not bite or sting.
    • Only males make the well-known sound, and they call on summer days to attract females.
    • Different species of cicada ‘sing’ at different times of the day, and each species makes its own distinct call to attract others of the same species.
    • There are more than 20 species of cicada in North Carolina, and about 200 in the US.
    • Fossils with morphological features similar to modern cicadas have been found that date back to the Mesozoic Era.
    • We in the US often group cicadas into two categories: annual and periodical. Annual species exist with overlapping generations and the adults are seen every year. In contrast, periodical species exist in synchronized broods appearing in great swarms every 13 or 17 years, depending on the Broods & species.
    • Many of the more familiar annual cicadas are also known as dog-day cicadas, after the Dog Star (Sirius) visible in the summer sky, which is part of the constellation Canis Major.
    • Cicada nymphs live by burrowing underground and attaching to tree roots; there they live in small chambers, consuming the xylem fluids from the tree’s roots, until the time comes for them to mature & emerge.


  • The Mantid (most commonly known as Praying Mantis) belongs to the insect order Mantodea.
  • They are ambush predators adapted to catching and eating insects and other small prey.
  • While hunting, their specialized front legs hold a “praying” position. When prey comes along, a mantid's front legs shoot out to catch it, and long spines on its legs help hold prey in place.
  • They have a “neck” (an elongated thorax) that allows them to turn their head 180 degrees.
  • Mantids are camouflaged to blend in with plants. This helps them while they hunt and hides them from predators.
  • Mantids often exhibit sexual cannibalism, where the female consumes the male while mating. The exact reason for this behavior is still being studied.
  • Females lay hundreds of eggs in a small case. Mantid nymphs hatch looking like miniature versions of their parents.

Butterflies and Moths

  • Butterflies and moths belong to the insect order Lepidoptera, which means “scaled wings.”
  • They are well camouflaged or use bright warning colors to advertise their bad taste to predators.
  • Their antennae are able to smell food and find potential mates.
  • Moth antennae are more feathered and sensitive than butterfly antennae because most moths are nocturnal. A Giant Silk Moth can smell a female’s pheromones (chemical signals) from a distance of seven miles!
  • The Giant Swallowtail has a wingspan of six inches and is the largest butterfly in North Carolina.

Honeybees: The Hymenopterans

  • The insect order Hymenoptera includes bees, wasps, and ants. These insects are considered “social insects” because they live together in large colonies that are controlled by at least one queen.
  • One queen of a beehive is fed a royal jelly and can produce up to 2,000 eggs per day.
  • For the larvae of bees, their future job as a drone (male) or a worker (female) is determined by the quality of food they eat in the larval stage.
  • Honeybees were introduced to North and South America to help with crop pollination. Although they help the farmer, these honeybees have crowded out many native bee species.
  • Honeybees communicate with smell as well as with an intricate dance that shows the direction and location of food.

Spiders, Ticks, and Scorpions: The Arachnids

  • Arachnids are not insects because they don’t have wings or antennae and have eight legs instead of six.
  • The mouthparts of spiders, ticks, and scorpions include fangs or pincers called “chelicerae.”
  • Out of the 1,500 species of North Carolina spiders, only two are harmful to humans: the black widow and the brown recluse.
  • There are two kinds of spiders, web builders who trap flying insects and wandering spiders who hunt crawling insects.
  • The silk produced by web-building spiders is stronger than a steel wire of the same size.

Beetles: The Coleopterans

  • One of every four animal species on Earth is a beetle.
  • Beetles are so numerous and successful because of the hard shell, called the elytra, that protects their hind wings and abdomen.
  • The elytra traps moisture and air around the wings allowing beetles to live in dry deserts and underwater. Beetles have been found almost everywhere on earth, from rainforests to ice fields!
  • Ladybugs often appear as the sweet, polka dotted “bug” on stationary cards and fabric, but these predatory beetles don’t mess around. The children of one female ladybug can eat 200,000 aphids in one growing season.

Cockroaches: The Blattarians

  • Cockroaches have existed on Earth for over 350 million years, which is long before the dinosaurs arrived!
  • Out of the 3,500 species of cockroaches worldwide, only 50 are considered to be pests to humans.
  • In North Carolina, there are 10-12 native species of cockroaches that are considered beneficial insects because they digest rotting wood and provide food for many animals.
  • The other five species of pesky cockroaches found in North Carolina have been introduced accidentally from Africa and South America.
  • The cockroach diet contains a long list of foods that includes paper, sugar, leaves, leather, and other insects. Not only do they eat almost anything, but some species, such as the American Cockroach, can survive without food for up to three months as long as it has water.

Meristomatids and Crustaceans

  • Horseshoe crabs are called meristomatids. They are not crustaceans but are instead distant relatives to spiders, ticks, and mites.
  • Horseshoe crabs are called “living fossils” because they have changed little since they appeared 350 million years ago.
  • There are 30,000 species of crustaceans. They are an important part of the economy and a vital link in ecosystems worldwide.
  • Pillbugs, also called Roly Polys, are not insects. They are land-dwelling crustaceans.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

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