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Insect Identification Key
Identify Insects in Michigan ... and beyond!

Ebony Jewelwing (<i>Calopteryx maculata</i>)
A student in Eastern Michigan University's Fish Lake Biological Program displays a beautiful ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata). Photo by Amanda McCreless

This key will to help you identify different insect orders. We are using many examples of insects found in Michigan, but the key will work anywhere.

How the Key Works

This is a dichotomous key, which means that at each step, you will have two choices. Just start the key and answer the simple questions until you arrive at your insect. We have included photos and illustrations to help you along the way.

What You Need

A magnifying glass. In some cases, the key will also ask specific questions relating to features not easily viewed by the human eye, so be sure to have a hand lens or some other magnifying device available.

Patience. We are including examples and information to help you, but because insect species are so numerous, the examples and characteristics may not correspond with your specimen exactly. This means that you may not always answer the questions correctly (insect identification can be tricky!), so you may have to go through the key a few times to identify your insect. Stick to it! You’ll get better quickly, and it's worth the extra effort!


This key is for adult insects, not for grubs, caterpillars or other non-adult insects.

Created by ...

The initial key: During the summer of 2011, five students enrolled in a course through Eastern Michigan University’s Fish Lake Biological Program, and created a key to the insect orders, which is available for free download here. The five students were: Charlotte Dotson, Mary-Jo Germain, Amanda McCreless, Renee Millard and Sara Mitchell. They spent many hours adding photos and information to make the key accessible to anyone from children to adults. They did a great job! In addition, the team also provided examples of many of the orders plus order descriptions in a second document, an Insect Database. For a free download of the database, click here.

The website: The course instructor, Dr. Leslie Mertz, expanded upon the students’ initial key to build this website. The website will continue to grow as future students add to it. The website will also eventually add a database of insects collected and identified here in Michigan. Watch for it!

• We hope you enjoy it!

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Unless noted otherwise, photographs on this website are the property of the photographers and may not be reused without written permission from the photographers. To obtain permission, email the photographers here. High-resolution versions of the photographs are available.

Photos at the top of this website are (from left to right): potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) — photo credit: Scott Bauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture; ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)— photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; sweat bee (Agapostemon splendens) — photo credit: Natalie Allen and Stephanie Kolski, U.S. Geological Survey; preying mantis, monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), hellgrammite (aka toe biter) larva and eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) — photo credit: Leslie Mertz,; Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina) — photo credit: Kay Meng, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Reproduction of material from any GoExploreMichigan Media webpages without written permission is strictly prohibited.