What IS this bug?

July 14th, 2010
By Dave Mosher

praying mantis leaf insect, Phyllium bioculatumOne of my favorite courses in college was Entomology 500. The gist: Capture a crapload of bugs, mount them on pins, identify them to a species, and finally show to them off for reactions of a) abject horror or b) nerdly squeals of delight.

As much as I’d like to personally identify your mystery bug(s) for you, there’s a better way: The Internet! (What else did you expect?)

Below are some free services to which you can submit creepy crawly bug photos, and a trained expert will respond with their best identification:

  • PestControlCanada.com – A straightforward site where the curious send in their photos, and volunteer bug pros respond in a few days. Not geared for the kill-nothing Buddhist types (i.e. “pest control” in the URL), but they do have a simple setup with nice-sized images.*
  • WhatsThatBug.com – More verbose identifications than the previous site, but the concept is the same: email your bugs, get them looked at. One big difference, however, is the “Why you gotta hate on insects?” attitude, as evidenced by the “Unnecessary Carnage” section that scolds bug squashers.
  • University of Minnesota’s insect gallery – If you’re too impatient for a pro’s analysis, this is a convenient self-guided process-of-elimination tool. Trouble is, there’s only a handful of bugs — but to turn it around again, the ones you’d most commonly notice/encounter are listed. A nice start before throwing in the towel.
  • Aardvark – To get a little social media on you, Vark.com is a great service to answer tough-to-Google questions — like “what is this bug?” This is because living breathing people (including entomologists and other bug experts) are on standby to answer strangers’ questions. You’ll need an instant message program and a means to post your photos publicly, but it’s a near-instant setup.

Speaking of ID’ing animals, it’s time for a few words on species.

Identifying bug species can, quite literally, come down to counting the number of hairs on a leg. Just ask an acarologist.

If this makes you feel conflicted, you’re not alone — scientists have bickered about how to classify the flora and fauna of the Earth for hundreds of years.

In spite of species specificity baggage, however, an Australian consortium recently estimated that the Earth harbors roughly 11.3 million living species, 1,899,587 of which are scientifically identified and recognized. The most impressively large group of species? You guessed it, bugs. More than half of those 1.9 million or so critters are insects! Pretty impressive biodiversity, no matter what your criteria may be.

All of the above numbers are shrinking courtesy of humankind, of course, but that’s another blog post.

Oh, and as for the bug shown in this post? It’s not a praying mantis, but close — it’s a leaf insect better known to entomologists as Phyllium bioculatum.

* Hat tip to blueberry_alice on Twitter for sharing a link to the Canadian bug-IDing site.

Photo courtesy Sandilya Theuerkauf/Wikipedia


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  • breanna

    well i just saw one and it so creppy

  • rodalyn alita