How to identify flying insects & pests

Whether you're trying to get rid of a annoying pest in your home or simply interested in observing and learning about insects, you need to be able to identify an insect accurately. With the wide variety of insect species, there are many that are similar. By closely observing details of the creature's habits and characteristics, you can learn to recognise what kind of pest you're dealing with.

Was it near water, in the woods or in a garden? This will help you begin to categorise the insect. If it was in your house, was it in the kitchen, the bathroom, on the pipes or the walls? This will help you determine what it eats and what habitat attracts it.

Notice the time of day when the insect is most active. Many insects are most active in the middle of the day, but some are more noticeable at dawn and dusk, and others are active at night.

Notice whether you have observed only one insect or many of the same kind. Does this insect appear to live in colonies or groups, or is it solitary?

Observe the insect closely. If the insect is very active, try to take a picture so you can examine it carefully. If it is not too active, you can observe it directly with a magnifying glass.

Count the number of legs. Most flying pests are insects with six legs. However, there are some spiders that fly on strands of silk from their bodies, and spiders have eight legs.

Look at the shape of the insect's body. Dragonflies and mayflies have long, slender bodies, but common bugs and beetles have short, thick bodies. Wasps, bees and ants have bodies that are narrower in the middle.

Examine the wings. Is there one pair of wings or two? Are the wings transparent or coloured? How does the insect hold its wings while at rest? Butterflies and moths usually have a pair of large wings covered with a fine powder, but wasps and bees have pairs of transparent wings.

Look at the insect's antennae, if present. Are they long or short? Are they pointed or knotted at the end?

Examine the insect's mouth. Does it have a biting jaw or a long sucker? This will help you determine what it eats.

Compare the insect to pictures of similar insects in an insect identification book or insect identification website such as

Things You'll Need

  • Insect identification book
  • Camera (optional)
  • Magnifying glass (optional)
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About the Author

Lisa Baker has been a professional writer since 2001. She has published articles on parenting, environmental issues and religious topics in a variety of print and online venues, including "HomeLife Magazine" and "Pink & Green." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Sweet Briar College.