When is a bug really a bug? When it belongs to the order Hemiptera – the true bugs. Hemiptera comes from the Greek words hemi, meaning half, and pteron, meaning wing. The name refers to their fore wings, which are hardened near the base and membranous near the ends, giving the appearance of a half wing. This diverse group of insects includes cicadas, aphids, hoppers, and water bugs.
Though members of this order may look quite different from one another, Hemipterans share common characteristics. They are best defined by their mouthparts, which are modified for piercing and sucking. Many members of Hemiptera feed on plant fluids like sap, and require the ability to penetrate plant tissues. Some Hemipterans, like aphids, can do considerable damage to plants by feeding in this way.
While the fore wings of Hemipterans are only half membranous, the hind wings are entirely so. When at rest, the insect folds all four wings over each other, usually flat. Some members of Hemiptera lack hind wings. Hemipterans have compound eyes, and may have as many as three ocelli.
The order Hemiptera is usually subdivided into four suborders:
- Auchenorrhyncha – the hoppers
- Coleorrhyncha – a single family of insects that live among mosses and liverworts
- Heteroptera - the true bugs
- Sternorrhyncha – aphids, scale, and mealy bugs
Habitat and Distribution:
Because this order is so diverse, the habitats are widely varied, Hemiptera includes terrestrial and aquatic insects, and members of the order may be found on plants and animals. They are abundant worldwide.
Major Infraorders or Superfamilies in the Order:
- Aphidoidea - aphids
- Pentatomoidea – shield bugs
- Gerromorpha – water striders, water crickets
- Cicadoidea - cicadas
- Tingoidae – lacebugs
- Coccoidea – scale insects
Families and Genera of Interest:
- Marine skaters in the genus Halobates live their entire lives on the surface of the ocean. They lay eggs on floating objects.
- The family Pentatomidae, stink bugs, have glands in the thorax that emit a foul-smelling compound. This defense helps them repel potential predators.
- Cicadas of the genus Magicicada are famous for their odd life cycles. Cicada nymphs stay underground for 13 or 17 years, when they emerge in large numbers and with a deafening song.
- Females of the genus Belostoma, giant water bugs, lay their eggs on the back of a male. The male cares for the eggs, bringing them to the surface for proper aeration.
- Gordon's Hemiptera Page
- Field Guide to Common Texas Insects
- Hemiptera - Dept. of Entomology, North Carolina State University
- Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman