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

fan-like hind wings
This person is holding the insect to show the wings, which match the description in “A,”. The front wing (left arrow) is fibrous and has many veins, and the rear wing (right arrow) is folded like a fan. This particular insect is an orange-winged grasshopper (Pardalophora phoenicoptera). Photo credit: USDA Forest Service/Steve Shively.

Your answer to the previous question was that your insect does not meet this description: first pair of wings that are stiff and lack branched veins, and that meet in a straight line down the middle of the back.

Which of the following describes your insect?

• A. My insect has chewing mouthparts, front wings that are fibrous and heavily veined, and hind wings that are folded like a fan.

• B. My insect has sucking mouthparts; and front wings that are fibrous at the base and membranous at the tip, and that fold together over the back to form an “X” pattern.

Insects with chewing mouthparts have mandibles (jaws) that move side to side, rather than up and down as our mouths work. Depending on the species of insect, mandibles can be rather small or quite large and look like big claws or pincers. Sucking mouthparts look different. They may be tubes or sword-like structures, and sometimes, the insect holds these mouthparts laid against its ventral side.

To determine if your insect has the mouthparts described in “B,” look at the front of its head for a straw-like beak. The beak, also known as a rostrum, may be held down along the insect’s ventral side.

X pattern
The forewings described in “B” are thick at the base (highlighted in green) and membranous, or filmy, at the tips, as shown in the illustration. An “X” pattern forms when the tips overlap. Above, the box elder bug (Boisea trivittata) has an obvious red “X” on its back. Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/ Chris Hornbaker. Illustration: Leslie Mertz.

For an additional description of insect mouthparts with a photo, click here.

Now look at your insect’s wings. If your insect has noticeably veined forewings, and beneath them, you see filmy hind wings that are folded up like a fan, answer “A.” Insects that have the characteristics described in “B” have front wings that look quite different on the end nearest the body, compared to the other end: They are thicker at the base (the end that attaches to the body) and thinner at the tip. In addition, the tips of these front wings overlap considerably, creating a X-shaped pattern on the back. See the illustration.

Click one of the following:

• Yes, my insect has the characteristics described in “A”: chewing mouthparts, front wings that are fibrous and heavily veined, and hind wings that are folded like a fan.

• Yes, my insect has the characteristics described in “B”: sucking mouthparts; and front wings that are fibrous at the base and membranous and overlapping at the tip, and that fold together over the back to form an “X” pattern.


I would like to return to the start of this key.





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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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