True bugs (Order: Hemiptera)
The two regions of the forewing of Heteopteran bugs can be seen in this adult Squash Bug (Coreus marginatus).
Including shieldbugs, plant bugs, bed bugs, pondskaters, cicadas, water bugs, aphids and scale insects.
The Hemiptera are called 'true' bugs because everyone - entomologists included - tend to call all insects 'bugs'. That is a loose term, whereas the true bugs are just those contained within the insect order Hemiptera.
This group of insects is very large, with around 75,000 species worldwide. Around 1,700 of these can be found in the British Isles. Many of them are very different from each other, but all of them have piercing mouthparts with which they can suck the juices from plants or animals - usually plants. Their mouthparts are contained in a beak (or rostrum) which is usually held underneath the body when not in use.
As plant feeders, some bugs - such as the aphids, for example - are serious agricultural pests, not just because they damage crops but because they can transmit viral diseases too. However, most bugs are not pests.
The true bugs often have long antennae divided into a small number of segments, and the front wings can be somewhat hardened. Some bugs resemble beetles, but beetles have wing covers that do not overlap, unlike the bugs.
Bugs undergo incomplete metamorphosis - their life cycle stages include the egg, adult-like nymphs, and winged adults.
True bug diversity
Historically the Order Hemiptera was split into two suborders: the Heteroptera (from the Greek, meaning 'different wings') and the Homoptera ('uniform wings'). This distinction was primarily based on the structure of the wings.
- Heteropteran bugs having fore wings clearly divided into two regions, a tough and leathery basal area and a membranous tip, and membranous hind wings; all four wings folded flat over their backs when not needed for flying.
- Homopteran bugs having either toughened or membraneous (but not both) fore wings and all four wings held tent-like over the body when the insect is at rest.
However, more recently, genetic analysis has shown that the groups within the Homoptera are not as closely related as previously thought - although they do share a common ancestor. This has resulted in the suborder Homoptera no longer being used and the insects that were previously part of this suborder being split in to three new suborders.
As a result, the Order Hemiptera is now split into four suborders:
The term 'Homoptera' is now only used as a popular term for plant-feeding Hemiptera (for example: aphids, leafhoppers, whiteflies etc.) and should not be used to refer to a suborder.
Obtaining true bugs
The Hemiptera can be easily captured using beating trays, sweep nets and detailed examination of vegetation. Water bugs can also be caught in small nets.
Land and Water Bugs of the British Isles
By T.R.E. Southwood and D. Leston.
Frederick Warne, 1959.
Out of print but available used from entomological booksellers.
Essential reading from the Amateur Entomologists' Society
Related links: True Bugs (Order: Hemiptera)
- Aphid Nymphs, Instars, Moults and Metamorphosis
- British Bugs
- Hemiptera - Tree of Life
- Hemiptera: bugs, aphids and cicadas
A to Z of insects
- Biting lice
- Leaf insects
- Praying Mantids
- Stick insects
- Sucking lice
- Three-pronged bristletails
- True Bugs
- Non-insect hexapods
- Two-pronged bristletails
Back to Insect Orders.