Shortcut to the main groups of insects and other arthropods...
Bug Rhymes & Poems
Payments (credit/debit card)
Minute to moderate-sized insects, usually with
two pairs of membranous wings, the front pair much larger than the
hind pair. The wings are coupled together by a row of small hooks on
the front edge of the hindwing. At first sight many flies (Diptera)
may be confused with hymenopterans, but the flies have only one pair
of wings and are easily distinguished on close examination. Eyes
usually large. Antennae somewhat variable, but generally thread-like
and often thickened towards the apex. Mouthparts of the biting type,
many species with powerful jaws, sometimes combined with a
tongue-like structure for lapping up sweet liquids. The latter is
particularly well developed in the nectar-feeding bees. A well
developed ovipositor at the tip of the abdomen is usually present
in the female. The ovipositor is used for drilling into plant or
animal tissues during egg-laying or it is modified as a sting and
no longer used for laying eggs. There is a complex metamorphosis,
with several larval stages and a pupal stage. Hymenopterous larvae
are of two distinct types: (a) caterpillar-like, with well developed
head and legs, and living on plant foliage; (b) grub-like, usually
with a reduced head and always legless, and living as parasites,
wood-borers, or protected in some kind of nest (see below). The
pupal stage is usually enclosed in some sort of cocoon, although
this may be so flimsy as to appear absent. The Hymenoptera is perhaps
second only to the Coleoptera (Beetles) in terms of numbers of
species. It contains over 120,000 described species and no doubt
many more are yet to be discovered. Over 6,500 species occur in the
Caterpillar-like larva, typical of most Sawflies
(suborder Symphyta - see below)
Grub-like larva, typical of most Wasps, Ants and Bees
(suborder Apocrita - see below)
The Order is split into two well-defined suborders.
These are the SYMPHYTA, in which the thorax and abdomen of the
adult insect are joined across their full width without a distinct
constriction between the two, and the APOCRITA, in which the
abdomen of the adult is attached to the thorax by a narrow 'waist' formed
by the first one or two abdominal segments. The Symphyta contains the
Sawflies and Wood Wasps (or Horntails), which are the most primitive
members of the order; the Apocrita contains the remaining Wasps, Ants
and Bees, many of which are highly advanced and specialised insects.
Only in this latter group and among the termites (Isoptera), do we find
true social behaviour.
From an economic standpoint, the Hymenoptera confer
many benefits to our lives. Bees are important pollinators of fruit trees
and other flowering plants, while the Honeybee is extensively cultured for
its yield of honey and wax. A great many species are parasites of other
insects and play a vital role in maintaining the balance of nature;
their activities are a recognised feature in the biological control of
many insect crop-pests. Among the less desirable members of the Order
are the defoliating larvae of Sawflies and the wood-boring larvae of
certain Solitary Wasps and Bees. Of lesser importance are the small
plant-feeding larvae of some Gall Wasps, which induce unusual plant
growth resulting in gall formations, such as the familiar marble galls
on oak trees (known as 'oak-apples') and the bright red bedeguar galls
on wild roses (often called 'robin's pincushion').
Horntail or Wood Wasp - Urocerus gigas|
Description. Female 40-60 mm long, body
colour black and yellow. Male slightly smaller and lacking the ovipositor or
'tail' of the female, and also the black band on the abdomen.
Biology. Mainly in and around coniferous
woodland. The female uses her stout ovipositor to drill into pines and other conifers
(usually selecting unhealthy trees) in order to lay her eggs. The legless larvae or
grubs spend their time tunnelling and feeding in the timber. Larval development may
take several years and larvae can survive even after trees have been felled and cut
to make floorboards and rafters. Adults emerging from cut timber sometimes cause
great alarm when they appear in or around new houses and other buildings. The 'tail'
of the female is often mistaken for a sting, but the insect cannot sting and it is
Distribution. British Isles and most of
Photo: Holger Groschl, CCA Share Alike License
(with sting-like ovipositor)
Pine Sawfly - Diprion (= Lophyrus) pini|
Description. Female 10-12 mm
long, male slightly smaller. Both sexes mainly black or dark brown,
with yellow legs. Some pale, yellow-brown banding on the female thorax and
abdomen (see photo). Antennae serrated in the female, more plumose and
feather-like in the male. Larva caterpillar-like, up to 25 mm long, light
yellowish-green, with black spots scattered over the body and pale brown head.
Biology. A common and often
serious pest in pine forests. The caterpillars live gregariously,
defoliating the young shoots of conifers. One generation a year, often
with a partial second brood.
Distribution. British Isles
and most of Europe.
Photo: Entomart ©
Common Wasp - Vespula vulgaris|
Description. Typical social
wasp with male, female and worker castes, all with conspicuous black
and yellow banding. Male 14-16 mm long, with longer antennae than the
other castes and lacking a sting. Female (queen) about 15-18 mm long;
workers smaller, around 10-14 mm long. One of several very similar
black and yellow species.
Biology. Nests under the ground
or in roof cavities, building a spherical, slightly cone-shaped nest
from wood pulp chewed into a greyish or yellowish paper-like material.
The nest is usually suspend by a short stalk from the ceiling of the
nest cavity and has an entrance hole at the bottom (see illustration -
more nest images).
Nests may reach football-size during the course of a season and contain
up to 5,000 or more worker wasps together with the founding queen. Wasp
colonies are annual affairs and die-out each year, leaving only the
young mated queens, produced at the end of summer, to hibernate
overwinter and start new colonies again in the following spring.
Adult wasps feed mainly on nectar and other sweet
liquids, but they rear their grubs on insects which the adults capture
and paralyze with their sting. The immobilized prey is carried back to
the nest and fed to the young stages. This predatory activity is largely
beneficial, since many of the insects killed by wasps are harmful crop
and garden pests, such as caterpillars and plant-feeding beetle larvae.
Distribution. A common species
in the British Isles and throughout most of Europe.
Photos: (wasp) Entomart ©;
(nest) P. McDowell ©
Nest suspended from
a roof beam
Yellow Garden Ant - Lasius flavus|
Description. Social insects
with male, female (queen) and worker castes. Male and female winged
and brownish-black, but the female sheds its wings soon after mating.
Worker is wingless and yellowish-brown. Male and worker up to 7 mm
long, female larger. Also called the Yellow Mound Ant.
Biology. Found in all kinds
of open habitats, especially grassland, and including gardens. They
nest underground, often forming a large mound or hill of excavated soil.
All nest building, foraging for food, care of eggs and grubs, etc., is
done by the workers. The grubs are reared on a variety animal matter,
mainly small insects and mites.
Winged males and females are produced at certain
times of the year and go off on their nuptial (or marriage) flights.
This emergence is controlled by climatic conditions, so that all the
nests in one area tend to produce males and females at the same time.
The males die soon after mating, but the females (young queens) shed
their wings and seek suitable nesting sites to start new colonies.
A young queen feeds the first batch of grubs on her own saliva, but
as soon as these first young workers become adult they take over the
building and running of the colony, leaving the queen to devote herself
Garden Ants have powerful jaws and can bite if disturbed
or attacked. They can also defend themselves from attackers by secreting
formic acid. Nest building activity can sometimes cause disturbance and
damage to plant roots, and nest mounds may interfere with mowing of garden
Distribution. One of our commonest
ants, found throughout the British Isles and in many parts of Europe.
Workers, together with winged males
and a larger winged female (top right)
Honey Bee or Hive Bee - Apis mellifera|
Description. Social bee,
with male (drone), female (queen) and worker castes. Queen and drone
about 15 mm long, worker 8-10 mm long. Mainly black or dark brown,
sometimes with paler yellowish banding on the abdomen.
Biology. Live in large
perennial colonies, consisting of a queen and up to 50,000 or more
worker bees. All the nest building and food gathering is done by
the workers; the queen remains in the nest (or hive) throughout
her life, continuously laying eggs, and is tended and fed by the
workers. New queens and drones are produced from time to time,
usually when the colony is about to swarm or when the resident
queen is failing and about to die. In the latter case, after mating
with a drone, one of the new queens will take over the colony.
Swarming occurs when the old queen or one of her new rivals take
off with a swarm of workers to start another colony. Queen bees
live for several years, but the drones and workers are short-lived.
Summer workers rarely live for more than a few weeks, although
later-maturing individuals will survive through the winter. Drones
usually die after mating, but in any event they are thrown out in
autumn when the colony settles down to hibernate, and soon perish.
Although most Honey Bees originate from man-made
hives, swarms do occasionally escape into the wild. Wild colonies
sometimes nest in the open on tree branches or other suitable
support, but more often they nest inside hollow trees and
similar sheltered places, hanging their expose combs in vertical
sheets from the roof of the nesting cavity. The comb is made from
wax secreted by the worker bees. Each cell of the comb is a perfect
hexagon and the cells are used for rearing the young and storing
pollen and nectar. The adults and grubs feed exclusively on honey
- a mixture of pollen and nectar.
originates from south-east Asia, but introduced and cultured nearly
everywhere for commercial honey and wax production.
Male or drone bees
on the honeycomb
Further Reading. Honey Bees are
probably the most extensively studied insects in the world. Numerous lengthy
books have been written on their social behaviour and on the fascinating
ways in which the workers communicate with each other and pass on
information about good sources of nectar and pollen.
- C.G. Butler (1949). The Honeybee. Clarendon, London.
- C.R. Ribbands (1953). The Behaviour and Social Life of Honeybees.
Bee Research Association, London.
- C.G. Butler (1954). The World of the Honeybee. The New Naturalist,
- J.B. Free (1970). Insect Pollination of Crops. Academic Press,
(classification of insects)
(identification key to insect orders)
(use the back button on your web browser to return to the previous page)