How to Identify Large Flying Insects

Written by emilytrudeau
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How to Identify Large Flying Insects
A dragonfly is a common large flying insect to see near water. (dragonfly image by Pali A from Fotolia.com)

There are more species of insects than any other kind of animal in the world. They come in a large range of sizes, but most of them are on the small to very small side. Large insects are more visibly interesting, and there are a lot less of them around. They can be simple to identify if you look for a few key features. Though you may not get down to the exact species of the insect, you can usually decide between whether it is a beetle or a dragon fly by the wing shape and the way it flies.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Notebook
  • Camera or bug net
  • Insect identification book

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Notice how the insect flies. Write down in your notebook whether it hovers, which would mean its likely a fly, flaps its wings slowly like a butterfly, or just takes long flying jumps from one location to another, as grasshoppers do.

  2. 2

    Observe where the insect hangs out or lands. Write down whether it focuses its energy on flowers, leaves, or sitting on top of water. There are many large insects that pollinate flowers such as bees and butterflies, but only a few, like dragonflies, spend a lot of time on water.

  3. 3

    Find a way to view the insect stationary. This can mean chasing it until it lands, taking a picture, or catching it with a bug net. Look at the insect's wings. Count how many are visible and how they are shaped. Notice if the top wings are like thick shields, look like a piece of plant, or are thin and membranous. Study the wings' orientation at rest, and write it all down.

  4. 4

    Use your insect identification book and your notes to determine which order this insect is from. Orders are the largest classification that break up the insects, so it will have the largest differences. Some order classifications that include large flying insects are the grasshoppers, beetles, dragonflies, and true bugs.

Tips and warnings

  • If you are able to capture an insect, you can identify it much more accurately. Some insects can only be distinguished from their relatives by the vein patterns in their wings or the number of segments in their antennae.
  • Read through your insect identification book before going out to look for insects. Notice the major differences between orders. For instance, butterflies have four visible soft opaque wings while beetles have outer wings that look like armour and don't aid in flight.
  • Some insects are venomous like bees and wasps. If you are allergic or are not sure if you're allergic, do not attempt to capture any insect that could be a bee or wasp.

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