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How to Identify Insects That Look Alike

Differentiating Between Bugs with Similar Appearances


Certain bugs look similar to others, making identification more challenging. What's the difference between a moth and a butterfly, for example? How do you know if you've got ants or termites in your home?  How can you identify insects that look alike? These articles will help you differentiate between bugs with simliar appearances.

Bee or Wasp?

Bee or wasp?
Carl Dennis, Auburn University, Bugwood.org

Do you know which one has hairy legs? Or more importantly, which one can sting you repeatedly? Certain physical and behavioral traits of bees and wasps will help you tell which one is which.

Ant or Termite?

Ant or termite?
Photo: © Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service

People often misidentify ants as termites, and vice versa, especially when they are found in the home. But a few key characteristics make correct identification of ants and termites easy. Learn what you need to look for to tell the difference between these social insects.

Butterfly or Moth?

Butterfly or moth?
Photo: © Debbie Hadley, WILD Jersey

Butterflies and moths belong to the same order (Lepidoptera), and share a lot of common traits. With few exceptions, though, you can separate the two groups by looking at specific physical and behavioral differences.

Dragonfly or Damselfly?

Dragonfly or damselfly?
Photo: © Susan Ellis, Bugwood.org

Dragonflies and damselflies both belong to the order Odonata, but that's where the similarities end. To separate these insects into their respective suborders, you need to look at their eyes, wings, bodies, and how they hold their wings at rest.

Grasshopper or Cricket?

Grasshopper or cricket?
Photo: Danny Steaven S./Wikimedia Commons

Grasshoppers and crickets belong to the same order (Orthoptera), but entomologists divide them into separate suborders. Grasshoppers and locusts belong to one group, while crickets and katydids belong to another. Differences between the two suborders include antennae length, auditory organs, how they produce sounds, and what they eat.

Caterpillar or Sawfly Larva?

Caterpillar or sawfly larva?
Photo: © Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

When is a caterpillar not a caterpillar? When it's a sawfly larva! Sawflies belong to an entirely different order than caterpillars. Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies and moths, while sawflies and their larvae are related to bees and wasps. To differentiate these two insects, you need to look at the legs.

Centipede or Millipede?

Centipede or millipede?
Photo: © Debbie Hadley, WILD Jersey

Contrary to popular belief, centipedes do not have 100 legs, nor do millipedes possess 1,000 legs. To identify these bugs, count the pairs of legs on each segment. You'll also notice differences in their leg structures, antennae, and movement.

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