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Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

Local animals in this group:


What do they look like?

Different kinds of true bugs can be very different sizes. The smallest are only a few millimeters long. The largest, the cicadas, can sometimes be 50 millimeters long.

True bugs have lots of different shapes. They may have long or short antennae having four or five segments. Their legs are adapted for grasping or for walking, and sometimes for swimming. Some can fly, some have lost their wings. Many true bugs have scent glands on the sides of the thorax. These glands make stinky chemicals that repel predators.

The mouth parts of true bugs have evolved into a long thin beak. They only eat liquid foods. The beak extends back between the legs to rest against the underside of the bug, and they swing it down and forward for use during feeding. The beak is made up of thin blades that are sharp at the end, and have a segmented cover. There are two channels in the beak, one spitting out saliva to keep the food flowing, and one for sucking in liquid food. Some true bugs can give a painful bite.

Adult true bugs have two pairs of wings, except for a few groups that have evolved to lose their wings. In one big group of true bugs, the front pair of wings are partly leathery, partly clear.

In most true bug species, males and females look similar.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range length
    5.0 to 60.0 mm
    0.20 to 2.36 in

Where do they live?

There are over 82,000 species of true bugs, including about 134 families, and they are found all around the world. Nobody knows exactly how many species there are in Michigan, but it is at least 2,000.

What kind of habitat do they need?

True bugs are found in nearly all land and freshwater habitats, except very coldest. The only group of insects that have evolved to live on the ocean are true bugs. True bug groups are most diverse and abundant in habitats on land that are moist and have a lot of plant life.

How do they grow?

True bugs go through a simple metamorphosis. After they hatch, the young bugs look very much like their parents, but they don't have wings. They grow and shed their skin five times. After the last time they shed, they have wings and are mature and can reproduce. They don't grow any more. In cold climates like Michigan, some true bug species survive the winter in the egg stage, some in the adult stage.

Some true bugs, like aphids, have more complicated life cycles, where females can give birth without mating during the summer, and then at the end of the summer, produce offspring that mate and go to another plant to spend the winter. In the spring their offspring go back to the original kind of plant and start the cycle again.

How long do they live?

Most species live for a year or less.

How do they behave?

Some true bugs are active in the daytime, others hunt at night, it varies by species. Most true bugs are solitary and don't come together except to mate, but some species live in groups. They don't interact very much, they seem to stay together just for protection (the group-living species usually have strong chemical defense which is probably even stronger when a whole bunch release their chemicals together).

The larger true bugs don't travel far, they tend to live in the place where they are born. Some of the aquatic bugs live in ponds that dry up though, and they will fly to new ponds. Some of the very small true bugs, like aphids, get blown on the wind and can travel very far that way.

How do they communicate with each other?

Like all insects, true bugs use scent and touch to communicate. They may also use their vision, but many species can't see very well. Many true bugs use sound and vibrations to communicate. The cicadas are one group of true bugs that are famous for the sounds they make. They gather in large numbers and form choruses, where thousands of insects call from one place. Their smaller relatives also communicate to each other. They don't have the special sound-producting organ that cicadas do. Instead they drum their bodies on branches and twigs.

Some species of true bugs are mimics, they pretend to be ants, and sneak into ant nests to eat ant larvae.

What do they eat?

True bugs take liquid food from plants or animals. Some suck plant sap, others dissolve seeds, some sip out the juice from cells in the leaves. Many true bugs are predators, stabbing their prey (usually other insects, sometimes other animals including vertebrates, like mammals and birds, snails, or spiders) and sucking out their blood or body fluids. For example, stink bugs feed on caterpillars and some aquatic bugs feed on mosquito larvae. Bed bugs are a parasitic member of the true bug group -- the feed on mammal blood, including humans.

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Since true bugs are so diverse and so common, they have many predators.

Different true bugs have different defenses against predators. Most true bugs have camouflage colors so predators can't see them easily. Many have glands that produce chemicals that smell or taste bad. This repels predators. If they have strong chemical defense, they may have warning colors instead of camouflage. A few true bugs mimic other more dangerous insects, like ants or wasps. Some of the predatory true bugs can bite. Adult true bugs will fly away if they can.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

True Bugs are consumers. Some are herbivores, some are predators, some are parasites.

Do they cause problems?

Some species of true bugs feed on the blood of mammals, including people. Bed bugs are true bugs. One group of species in Central and South America carry a dangerous disease from one person to another. The bites and droppings of other species cause skin irritations.

Many plant-sucking bugs cause damage to crops and landscaping. For example aphids are major pests of many food plants.

How do they interact with us?

A few true bug species keep harmful insects under control. In addition, gall-producing true bugs are potentially useful in controlling particular weed species.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Some more information...

Some true bugs include blood-sucking bed bugs, kissing bugs, assassin bugs, ambush bugs, stink bugs, chinch bugs, backswimmers, water boatmen, and marsh treaders. Aphids, cicadas, leafhoppers, planthoppers and scale insects are also in this large group.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map


living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

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living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


having colors that act to protect the animal, often from predators. For example: animals that are bright red or yellow are often toxic or distasteful, their colors discourage predators from eating them.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.

brackish water

areas with salty water, usually in coastal marshes and estuaries.


an animal that mainly eats meat

causes disease in humans

an animal which directly causes disease in humans. For example, diseases caused by infection of filarial nematodes (elephantiasis and river blindness).

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal


mid-altitude coastal areas with mild, rainy winters and long, dry summers. Dominant plant types are dense, evergreen shrubs.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


a period of time when growth or development is suspended in insects and other invertebrates, it can usually only be ended the appropriate environmental stimulus.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

to jointly display, usually with sounds in a highly coordinated fashion, at the same time as one other individual of the same species, often a mate


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and the fresh and saltwater mixes

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


animals that have little or no ability to regulate their body temperature, body temperatures fluctuate with the temperature of their environment, often referred to as 'cold-blooded'.


the state that some animals enter during winter in which bodily functions slow down, reducing their energy requirements so that they can live through a season with little food.


(as keyword in perception channel section) This animal has a special ability to detect heat from other organisms in its environment.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

intertidal or littoral

the area of shoreline influenced mainly by the tides, between the highest and lowest reaches of the tide. An aquatic habitat.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


development takes place in an unfertilized egg


An aquatic biome consisting of the open ocean, far from land, does not include sea bottom (benthic zone).


the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Climbing plants are also abundant. There is plenty of moisture and rain, but may be somewhat seasonal.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


this biome is characterized by large expanses of coniferous forest, there is an extended cold season and heavy snowfall.


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in very cold places -- either close to polar regions or high on mountains. Part of the soil stays frozen all year. Few kinds of plants grow here, and these are low mats or shrubs not trees. The growing season is short.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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2008. "Hemiptera" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 18, 2014 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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