First things first: Make sure you have an insect. This key is for insects.
One of the best ways to make sure you have an insect (and not a spider or other small creature) is to look at the legs. Insects have six, jointed legs that arise from the thorax (the “chest”). Many insects have wings, although many are wingless. Most have two compound eyes, although some lack compound eyes, and most have antennae.
In contrast, a spider has eight legs, is wingless, and has no antennae. Most spiders have eight eyes (two may be larger than the other six, but all eight eyes are usually visible).
If you believe that you definitely have an insect, click here to continue the key.
NOTE: Almost all immature insects are wingless. This key does not cover immature insects. If you carefully go through this key and cannot identify your wingless insect, it may be an immature insect. Identifying immature insects takes practice, and as you become more adept at identifying adult insects, you will develop an eye for many immature insects as well.
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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, DailyGraceCards.com; Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina) — photo credit: Kay Meng, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
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