Insect guide > Bugs


The True Bugs (Suborder Heteroptera.)
The true bugs belong to this group and the common squash-bug may be taken as a typical example. In all, the metamorphoses are incomplete and the mouth-parts are formed into a beak fitted for sucking either the juices of plants or of insects or the blood of fishes, birds or mammals. The wings, when present, differ radically from those of the preceding order in that the front wings or wing covers, or elytra, or hemielytra, as they are variously termed are horny at the basal half and membranous for the end portion. When they are folded the membranous portions overlap, that of the right wing covering that of the left, but there are many exceptions to this rule, and even in the same species, while most specimens will be found with the right wing uppermost, there will be some in which the membrane of the left wing is on top.

The order is a very large one, but has not been studied with the same assiduity which has characterized the study of other groups. There are not a lot of entomologists or collectors in the United States who specialize in the true bugs.

Yet these insects are easily captured and are as readily preserved as beetles arid the studying of their varying habits offers a most attractive field. Probably twelve thousand species have been described in the whole world of which only about one thousand six hundred inhabit the United States. This number could be more than quadrupled by careful collecting and, indeed, our most learned authority on the group, Professor P. R. Uhler, of Baltimore, informs me that he infers that we have five thousand species in the United States, of which not more than three thousand species have been brought together in collections, but the number is being added to every month. He thinks that fifty thousand, as an estimate of the existing species in the whole world, would be a very insufficient supposition.

In food habits the Heteroptera vary greatly. Some of them live strictly on the sap of plants, while others are carnivorous, sucking the blood of other insects, and even the blood of vertebrate animals, while still others seem to feed indifferently upon plants and animals. Still others seem to require no other nourishment than the moisture of decaying wood and fungi. Many forms are truly aquatic, others travel about with ease upon the surface, while others seem confined to the shores of streams and ponds and to the sea beach. The majority, however, live inland under the most diverse conditions on trees, plants and shrubs.

The peculiar odor possessed by many of the true bugs is by no means characteristic of all. The disagreeable and characteristic odor of the bed-bug is approximated by that of the chinchbug of western wheatfields and by certain Pentatomids. Others smell like very ripe or over-ripe fruit, especially pears, while in some Coreidae the odor is aromatic and in others it is spicy like cinnamon. This odor is that of a very volatile oil which is secreted, as a method of defense, from certain specialized glands situated in different parts of the body.

It will be noticed that there is very much yet to be learned about the individual life histories of the true bugs. In very few of the families has a single species been studied with sufficient care to enable the writer to give a good typical life history. There is probably no one of the great groups of insects which offers so good an opportunity for the collector, the systematic worker, or the true student of nature who wishes to learn how insects live, to learn so many original and absolutely novel facts as in collecting and studying the Heteroptera.