True Bugs (Heteroptera) | Smithsonian Institution (2023)

True Bugs belong in the insect Order Heteroptera. There are approximately 40,000 described species of true bugs in the world, and over 3,800 in the United States.

Defining the Order

The True Bugs are insects that have two pairs of wings, the front or outer pair of each divided into a leathery basal part and a membranous apical part. These wing covers are held over the back and often partly folded. True bugs have hypodermic-needle-like mouthparts that allow them to extract subsurface fluids from plants and animals. Bugs undergo incomplete metamorphosis, with their young looking much like adults, but without wings.

Effects on mankind

The hypodermic-needle-like mouthparts enable true bugs to extract body fluids from plants and animals, including humans. Plants generally show little effect of true bug feeding, unless the bugs are very abundant. A variety of insects, including caterpillars and cockroaches, often fall prey to assassin bugs. A few true bugs are pests or disease carriers. The notorious bed bug is generally uncommon in current households, but their close relatives often live in the nests of bats and birds. A group of assassin bugs in the tropics, known as Conenose bugs, transmit the serious human Chagas Disease, which sometimes causes death.

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Interesting Facts about True Bugs

Some true bugs have been utilized as food for both humans and pets. Certain water bugs are used to give particular flavors to Chinese food, and are even imported into California for this purpose. An examination of commercial "turtle food" may reveal that it is composed largely of small water bugs. Some bugs are capable of producing a foulsmelling chemical from glands in the sides of their bodies, especially the group known as Stink Bugs. This disagreeable odor turns away predators, but has no staining effect to humans. The Common Milkweed Bug has bright orange and black colors, and feeds on milkweed plants. These colors are a warning to vertebrate predators that the bug is poisonous, with milkweed plant toxins. Although sound making in insects is generally restricted to katydids and their relatives, and cicadas, some Assassin Bugs can produce hissing sounds by rasping their feeding tube against the underside of their body.

Aquatic Bugs

Many true bugs are aquatic. Bugs of the Family Notonectidae are known as Water Boatmen, and are capable predators of other insects on the water surface. More familiar is the group of aquatic bugs known as Water Striders, which move on the water surface with their "feet" barely touching the surface. They detect the ripples of other insects on the water and run quickly to capture and kill the prey. Water scorpions are true bugs in the Family Nepidae that have long breathing tubes on their rear ends, which enables them to breathe air while still under water. They can survive in warm ponds or polluted waters low in oxygen.

Selected References

Blatchley, W. S. 1926.Heteroptera or True Bugs of Eastern North America, with Special Refence to the Faunas of Indiana and Florida. 215 pages. Nature Publishing Co., Indianapolis.

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Froeschner, R. C. 1960.ACydnidae of the Western Hemipshere.@Proceedings of the United States National Museum, 111:337-60.

Henry, T. J. & Froeschner, R. C., editors. 1988.Catalog of the Heteroptera, or True Bugs, of Canada and the Continental United States. 958 pages. E. J. Brill, Leiden.

Miller, N.C.E. 1956.The Biology of the Heteroptera. 162 pages. Leonard Hill, London.

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Polhemus, J. T. 1985.Shore Bugs (Heteroptera Hemiptera; Saldidae). A World Overview and Taxonomic Treatment of Middle American Forms. 252 pages. The Different Drummer, Englewood, Colorado.

Slater, J. A. & Baranowski, R. M. 1978.How to know the True Bugs. 256 pages. Wm. C. Brown, Dubuque, Iowa.

Torre-Bueno, J. R. de la. 1939-1941.AA synopsis of the Hemiptera-Heteroptera of America north of Mexico.@Entomologica Ameicana, 19:141-304 and 21:41-122.

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Van Duzee, E. P. 1917.ACatalogue of the Hemiptera of America north of Mexico, excepting the Aphididae, Coccidae, and Aleyrodidae.@902 pages. University of California Publications,Technical Bulletin in Entomology II.

Prepared by the Department of Systematic Biology,Entomology Section,
National Museum of Natural History, in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services,
Smithsonian Institution

Information Sheet Number 170, 1996

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What are 3 characteristics of true bugs? ›

Defining the Order

These wing covers are held over the back and often partly folded. True bugs have hypodermic-needle-like mouthparts that allow them to extract subsurface fluids from plants and animals. Bugs undergo incomplete metamorphosis, with their young looking much like adults, but without wings.

What are the identifying characteristics of Heteroptera? ›

  • Antennae slender with 4-5 segments.
  • Proboscis 3-4 segmented, arising from front of head and curving below body when not in use.
  • Pronotum usually large, trapezoidal or rounded.
  • Triangular scutellum present behind pronotum.
  • Front wings with basal half leathery and apical half membranous (hemelytra).

Why are Heteroptera called true bugs? ›

The key difference between true bugs and other insects is their mouth parts. True bugs suck. That's right, the true bugs have specialized mouth parts used to suck juices. Mostly they suck fluids from plants, but there are some true bugs, like bed bugs, that feed on animals.

What is the difference between Hemiptera and Heteroptera? ›

The Heteroptera are a group of about 40,000 species of insects in the order Hemiptera. They are sometimes called "true bugs", though that name more commonly refers to the Hemiptera as a whole.

What is the life cycle of true bugs? ›

True bugs undergo incomplete metamorphosis as they do not have a pupal stage. This involves passing through 3 life stages which are egg, nymph and adult. After the eggs are fertilized, usually in the spring, the female may deposit them in plant tissue, soil, or bark.

What is the Heteroptera habitat? ›

Inhabiting various terrestrial, aquatic and even certain marine habitats, and engaging in feeding strategies that range from predation on other arthropods and hematophagy on vertebrates, to mycetophagy and phytophagy, Heteroptera are also one of the ecologically most diverse speciose lineages of insects (Schuh and ...

What is the difference between Homoptera and Heteroptera? ›

Homoptera and Hemiptera are two insect groups. The key difference between Homoptera and Hemiptera is that the Homoptera is a plant feeder that uses its antennae to suck the plant juice to fulfill its nutrition requirement while Hemiptera is both a plant and a blood feeder.

What insects are found in order Heteroptera? ›

Heteropterans can be divided into three large groups on the basis of general habitat: the water-dwelling Hydrocorisae (water boatmen, backswimmers, water scorpions, giant water bugs, and creeping water bugs); the surface-swimming and shore-dwelling Amphibicorisae (water striders, marsh and water treaders, shore bugs, ...

What are some fun facts about true bugs? ›

Some true bugs can give a painful bite. Adult true bugs have two pairs of wings, except for a few groups that have evolved to lose their wings. In one big group of true bugs, the front pair of wings are partly leathery, partly clear. In most true bug species, males and females look similar.

What is the difference between a true bug and an insect? ›

True bugs belong to the order of Hemiptera, and the primary difference between true bugs and other insects is their mouthparts. In particular, true bugs can suck with their mouthparts, according to Arizona State University(Opens in a new window).

Which order of insects is known as true bugs? ›

Hemiptera (/hɛˈmɪptərə/; from Ancient Greek hemipterus 'half-winged') is an order of insects, commonly called true bugs, comprising over 80,000 species within groups such as the cicadas, aphids, planthoppers, leafhoppers, assassin bugs, bed bugs, and shield bugs.

Do Heteroptera have wings? ›

The Heteroptera are a suborder of the true bugs (Order Hemiptera). Adult Heteroptera have fore wings that are divided into two distinct regions. Usually the region closes to the front of the thorax is toughened and used to protect the hind wing underneath. The hind region of the fore wing is thinner and more flexible.

Are Heteroptera plant feeders? ›

Abstracts. Phytophagous hemipterans (heteropterans) are, in general, polyphagous, feeding on a wide array of plants.

What is the wing of Heteroptera? ›

The forewings of heteropterans are generally divided into basal and apical halves of different texture. Homopteran forewings, on the other hand, are generally of similar texture for their full length. Scent glands are present in all terrestrial and some aquatic nymphs and adults of the Heteroptera.

How long do bugs stay alive? ›

Most insects live for less than a year because they are cold blooded and don't survive winter. Ants have different life expectancies depending on their role in the colony. Male drones only live for a week or two, workers will live for up to a year and a queen can live for decades.

How does the true bug reproduce? ›

True Bug Life Cycle

Males and females will mate end-to-end (Fig. 3), or facing away from each other. Mated females lay eggs singly or in small masses near potential food sources. Nymphs hatch from the eggs and begin to search for small prey items.

What bug has a 1 day lifespan? ›

Mayflies only live for 24 hours and hold the record for the shortest living life cycle on earth. This might be good news to anyone who hates bugs, but not all bugs have short lifespans. There are a few bugs that can live for years, even decades.

What are the 7 main types of insects? ›

Most of them come from one of seven main groups: beetles, bees and their relatives, bugs, flies, butterflies, crickets, and dragonflies.

What are the 7 main characteristics of insects? ›

Characteristics of Insects

Insects have jointed appendages as arthropods (arthropod means "jointed foot"), an exoskeleton (hard, external cover), segmented body, ventral nervous system, digestive system, open circulatory system, and advanced sensory receptors.

What are the four types of bugs? ›

The largest numbers of described species in the U.S. fall into four insect Orders: Coleoptera (beetles) at 23,700, Diptera (flies) at 19,600, Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps) at 17,500, and Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) at 11,500.

Which family of Heteroptera can be found in a marine environment? ›

However, the only insects to live in the open ocean are members of the genus Halobates, commonly known as sea-skaters [2]. They belong to the family Gerridae (Heteroptera), which comprises the common pond-skaters or water-striders.

Do Heteroptera bite? ›

Several species of heteropteran Hemiptera are known to bite humans. Human bites by heteropterans can be separated into two major groups: feeding bites (e.g., by hematophagous species) and adventitious bites ( Schaefer 2000 ).

What are the two main differences between insects from the orders Homoptera and Hemiptera? ›

In contrast to the Hemiptera, homopteran mouthparts arise further back on the underside of the head. Those forms that have wings have ones that are uniform in structure, hence their name, Homoptera, meaning samewing. Also unlike the Hemiptera, these insects hold their wings roof-like over their backs.

Are Heteroptera predators? ›

Most of the carnivorous heteropterans used for biological control are polyphagous predators feeding on a wide array of arthropod prey.

What are the main characteristics of Homoptera? ›

All Homoptera have piercing-sucking mouthparts and a gradual metamorphosis, the life stages being the egg, nymph, and adult. The winged forms include leafhoppers, cicadas (sometimes called locusts), spittlebugs, planthoppers and treehoppers. The plantlice or aphids, include both winged and wingless forms.

Are true bugs harmless? ›

A lot of true bugs are brightly colored but are mainly poisonous to animals that would eat them. That being said, they can still bite, as anything with a mouth can bite you. The most important thing is that if you don't know if it's dangerous, you just shouldn't touch it.

Can bugs feel happy? ›

In fact, there's mounting evidence that insects can experience a remarkable range of feelings. They can be literally buzzing with delight at pleasant surprises, or sink into depression when bad things happen that are out of their control.

Do any bugs feel love? ›

Even insects express anger, terror, jealousy and love, by their stridulation.”

What are examples of true bugs? ›

True bugs

What is the family of true bug? ›

The true bugs are an order of insects. Biologists call true bugs the Hemiptera.

Are true bugs harmful to plants? ›

Damage. True bugs suck juices from leaves, fruit, or nuts, forming a pale stippling around feeding sites and distorting tissue. Varnishlike spots of excrement often dot leaves. Bugs do not seriously harm woody plants; however, activities of some species can be undesirable.

What is the scientific name of true bugs? ›

Hemiptera Linnaeus, 1758 – true bugs, hemipterans.

Which bugs are not true bugs? ›

By the technical, or taxonomic, definition, a large group of insects are not bugs, even though we call them bugs. Beetles, ants, moths, cockroaches, bees, flies, and mosquitoes are not considered true bugs since they are not found in order Hemiptera. Instead, these creepy crawlies are found in order Hymenoptera.

Is it true that all insects are bugs but not all bugs are insects? ›

Insects comprise a lot of the creatures you tend to think of as bugs. Ants, grasshoppers, bees, and flies are all insects. All bugs are insects, but under the technical definition, not all insects are bugs. True bugs belong to an order of insects called Hemiptera.

What are the functions of hemelytra? ›

Unlike elytra, hemelytra function primarily as flight wings. In both cases, the membranous hind wings (when present) are used in flight and are folded beneath the forewings when at rest. The wings of butterflies and moths are covered with scales, and mosquitoes possess scales along wing veins.

What is an example of hemelytra? ›

HETEROPTERA (greenflies, cicadas, bedbugs): the forewings, known as hemelytra, aren't completely hardened as in the case of beetles: only de proximal part is hardened, while the distal part has a membrane texture.

What is the only insect with two wings? ›

The order name for flies, "Diptera", literally means "two wings", but there is another order of insect which has evolved flight with only two wings: strepsipterans, or stylops; they are the only other organisms that possess two wings and two halteres.

Do carnivorous plants keep bugs away? ›

Carnivorous plants can be grown in greenhouses to deter pests from invading your beautiful landscape. Additionally, they work well on kitchen window sills if you get the occasional fly that wants to bother you.

Do carnivorous plants eat all bugs? ›

Venus flytraps capture any crawling insect---mine feast particularly on spiders, but plants in the wild have different diets. Occasionally, oh yes, occasionally vertebrates such as rats and birds have been captured.

What is the character of Heteroptera? ›

Heteroptera are hemimetabolous insects, typically developing via a series of 5 nymphal instars. The body consists of 3 distinct parts (although the head and thorax are closely adjoined in Pleidae and Helotrephidae), with mouthparts specialized for piercing and sucking (except in the Corixidae) (Plate I).

What are Heteroptera unique characteristics? ›

Superficially, they resemble beetles, but: The forewings overlap on the dorsal surface, usually forming an “X” or “Y” pattern. They have a large scutellum, a triangular sclerite between the bases of the forewings. Beetles NEVER have sucking mouthparts.

What are 3 facts about insects? ›

Insects are the only arthropods that have wings, and the wings are always attached to the thorax, like the legs. insects that have incomplete metamorphosis. The number of insect species is believed to be between six and ten million. Insect bodies have three parts, the thorax, abdomen and head.

How can a person identify a true bug? ›

True bugs are distinguished from other insects by the structure of their mouthparts and the way they feed. True bugs are unable to chew; their mouthparts are designed for sucking up their meals. Their mouthparts include a tube called a rostrum, often called a beak.

What main characteristics do all bugs have in common? ›

Awesome, now you know that all insects have three body parts: a head, a thorax, an abdomen, they have six legs, they have a pair of antennae, and they have zero or two pairs of wings. Now that we know the features that all insects share let's take a look at some animals and figure out which one is an insect.

What characterizes a bug? ›

Strictly speaking, a bug is an insect in the group Hemiptera – it must have piercing mouthparts. Cicadas are Hemiptera, but spiders aren't. Often though, 'bug' means a creepy-crawly in everyday conversation. It refers to land arthropods with at least six legs, such as insects, spiders, and centipedes.

What 4 things do all insects have in common? ›

Insects have jointed appendages as arthropods (arthropod means "jointed foot"), an exoskeleton (hard, external cover), segmented body, ventral nervous system, digestive system, open circulatory system, and advanced sensory receptors. The word "jointed appendages" applies to both antennae and legs.

Do bugs have 5 senses? ›

All insects have sense organs that allow them to see, smell, taste, hear, and touch their environment. Since these are the same five senses we humans experience, it is tempting to conclude that insects see what we see, hear what we hear, smell what we smell, etc.

Do insects see you? ›

Mikko Juusola, Professor of Systems Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield and lead author of the study, said: “From humans to insects, all animals with good vision, irrespective of their eye shape or design, see the world through fast saccadic eye movements and gaze fixations.

Can true bugs fly? ›

True bugs have lots of different shapes. They may have long or short antennae having four or five segments. Their legs are adapted for grasping or for walking, and sometimes for swimming. Some can fly, some have lost their wings.

Can insects recognize owners? ›

Our existing research shows that honeybees and wasps can learn to recognise human faces.

What characteristics most likely explains why insects are so successful? ›

It is believed that insects are so successful because they have a protective shell or exoskeleton, they are small, and they can fly. Their small size and ability to fly permits escape from enemies and dispersal to new environments.

What are two things that all insects have in common? ›

Insects have six legs and two antennae, and their body is made up of three main regions: head, thorax, and abdomen.

What are the two special features of insects? ›

Insects have six legs and a pair of wings. 2. They have a pair of , which helps sense the surrounding environment.

What defines a true bug? ›

True bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts (Fig. ) and belong to the order Hemiptera and suborder Heteroptera. There are more than 38,000 species of true bugs, and are most closely related to aphids, cicadas, and leaf hoppers. Although some true bugs are considered pests, about one-third are predaceous.

What are true bugs called? ›

Hemiptera (/hɛˈmɪptərə/; from Ancient Greek hemipterus 'half-winged') is an order of insects, commonly called true bugs, comprising over 80,000 species within groups such as the cicadas, aphids, planthoppers, leafhoppers, assassin bugs, bed bugs, and shield bugs.


1. Introduction to UK True Bugs
(The Tanyptera Project)
2. Medical Museum : anatomical collections of human parts : preserved human organs
3. How Insects Fly!
(Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum)
4. Here come the stink bugs...
5. 10 Mysteries That are Locked Away in the Smithsonian
6. What Makes An Insect? | The Insect Effect
(UF Thompson Earth Systems Institute TESI)
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