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How to Identify Insects Found in the Home

Updated April 17, 2017

The study of insects is known as entomology. Whether you are trying to identify an insect you've never seen before for fun or communicate with an exterminator, it can be helpful to correctly identify the insects found in your home. The first fact you must know to identify insects is that common household insects vary by region and climate. You must also recognise that our global economy is making it easier for insects to travel all over the world by hitching a ride on humans or through the transport of freight, so don't be surprised if you find an exotic or unusual insect in your home.

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  1. Capture a specimen of the insect in question. Use a suitable container that will keep the insect alive for a while. Good containers are big enough to keep the insect in it comfortably and allow fresh air in for the insect to breathe, but not so big that the insect can escape. Small plastic jars or bottles with some air holes in the lid will work fine. If you're squeamish about touching the insects try taking photos.

  2. Write down every detail about the insect as soon as possible. It's important to do this right away because the insect might change quite a bit if it becomes stressed out. Note its size, shape, colour and general appearance. Describe any interesting parts, like the antennae. Use your magnifying glass to get a good view of the legs and body parts. Write down where you found the insect, what the climate is like and the time of day. A good report might read like "Brown insect, shiny, beetle-like with a shell, about 1 inch long with long antennae. Found under the front door floor mat during a nice summer evening." Jot down any important behaviours the bug displays, like "rearing" at you threateningly, clicking or emitting bad odours.

  3. Start with the scientific route to correctly identify your specimen. All insects are in the class Hexapoda. The Hexapoda class is divided again into orders, such as the order of beetles, Coleoptera. Orders are then divided into families, families into genera (genus) and genus into species. According to entomologist Hein Biljmaker, there are more than 750,000 species of insects.

  4. Identify the species of your insect specimen by using a reference key or taxonomic book on insects. This is where your detailed notes will be the most helpful. Insects are divided by their body types and distinct qualities, such as insects with and without wings or with or without pincers and by a long list of other characteristics.

  5. Tip

    Common names of insects (like "moth" or "cockroach") are fairly useless to an entomologist or exterminator. Find an insect's true genus and species to correctly identify it.

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Things You'll Need

  • Notebook
  • Insect containers
  • Camera
  • Magnifying glass

About the Author

Melissa Bajorek began writing professionally in 2001. Her work has appeared online, in daily newspapers and on websites owned by Gatehouse Media, in monthly periodicals and for local and regional radio. She writes about a variety of topics, from new technology to animal husbandry. Bajorek has an Associate of Arts in business management from the University of Phoenix and holds certifications in marketing and advertising.

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