Insect identification - a step by step guide
to identify insects to order level
This identification key works for adult insects found in Europe. It may also work for insects found in other parts of the world. All you have to do is click on the right choice in each box. This will take you to the next box, or to the page dealing with that order of insects.
Or you could try my new book availble from Amazon if it is an insect.
Smith, L. (2014). Characteristics of the insect orders. Amazon. Characteristics of the insect orders with drawings and photographs to help you understand the differences between the different types of insect, and identify which order an insect is in, as well as fast facts about each insect order, and links to web pages with more detailed information.
Many orders have separate sections about the life cycle of the insect as well as its habitat requirements, and fossil history.
Insects with just one pair of wings - go to Box 3.
Insects with 2 pairs of wings. The 2 pairs can be different, as in beetles (see below) who have their front pair modified into wing cases (elytra). The front and back wings may be hooked or zipped together as they are in bees (see below) and butterflies, and will look like one pair, so look closely.
Insects with hinds legs that are large, strong and good for jumping. Go to Orthoptera, crickets and grasshoppers, etc.
Insects with hind legs that are not modified for jumping. Go to Dictyoptera, cockroaches and mantids.
Tiny insects covered in a white powdery substance. Go to Box 14.
Insects not covered in a white powdery substance. Go to Box 15.
Insects that hold their wings flat over their body and have piercing, sucking mouthparts. The piercing mouthparts (see the drawing on the right) may be folded under the body when not feeding. Go to Hemiptera, the true bugs.
Insects that hold their wings roof-like over their body when at rest. The mouthparts are the biting type (this may be difficult to see, but it is enough to be sure they do not have a stylets - see right). Go to Neuroptera, lace wings, ant lions, alderflies, snake flies etc.