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Is it a Bug or an Insect?

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Hello! This is the second post in my Backyard Bug Study series. Did you know there are over one million different kinds of insects? How about that for every one human there are two million of them?  Or that they are in nearly all habitats?  Or did you know there are over a five billion bugs in the world? No wonder we are so familiar with them!

is it a bug or an insect cropped


Bugs. What are bugs? Many people use the word “bugs” interchangeably for “insects.” But should they? So lets see if we can decide… is it a bug or an insect?

Let’s start with some scientific information about insects. Insect scientists, called entomologists, categorize all of creation. For insects they are in the Kingdom of Animalia (animals), the Phylum of Arthropoda and their Class is Insecta (comes from insectum and it means cut into sections). Arthropods are animals that lack a backbone, which are called invertebrates. There are several types of arthropods classified into groups that have common traits.  In this article I will be discussing what insects and bugs are and how you can tell them apart.

What are Insects?

Here are some of the characteristics that insects have, that bugs may not.

  • Six Jointed Legs – All insects have legs that have three sections. Look at praying mantis for a great example of this.
  • Segmented Body – Head, Thorax (The midsection of the body) and Abdomen (the tail end) are the main 3 parts of an insect’s body.
  • Breathe through tiny holes in their bodies called spiracles – These tiny holes let air in through the exoskeleton and directly to the trachea (The windpipe) and then into the lungs.
  • Antennae/Feelers – They use echolocation to send sound waves that bounce off of objects then come back. Bats and dolphins also use echolocation. They can figure out distance by how long it takes for the sound to bounce back to them.
  • Metamorphosis – What happens when the young body of an animal goes through a radical change in form when it grows up.
  • Exoskeleton – An exoskeleton is sort of like a protective armor that insects have. It doesn’t grow with them though, so they have to molt / shed yearly and grow a new exoskeleton.
  • Compound Eyes – Most insects have compound eyes, which means their eye is composed of thousands of tiny lenses.

Then what is a bug? 

True bugs are insects, but they do have some differences. Some bugs have more than six legs, where insects, do not. Most true bugs will have an X or a V on their back. Also most true bugs have a proboscis (a straw-like mouth) so they can suck pollen and other things out of a flower. The wings are different for true bugs.  The front wings of true bugs are thicker and colored near where they are attached to their body, and are more clear and thin towards the end of the wing. The hind wings are usually clear and under the front wings. Finally, true bugs also have three ‘life phases’ while insects have four stages. The true bug stages are: egg, larva/nymph, adult. The insects however, are: Egg, Larva/Nymph, Pupa, Adult.

What do they have in common?

Both have exoskeletons, and are invertebrates and have many other features that are the same such as: They both have three main body parts, they also have compound eyes, jointed legs, and most bugs have six legs like insects. Since there are even MORE things, I’ll put a diagram of some things that they have in common, and what they have different.

true bugs and insects

Activity: Bug and Insect Identification

Let’s take a closer look at nature! Let’s get into your backyard and see if we can identify some insects! First, remember you don’t want to touch bugs with your bare hands unless you know what the bug is! Remember some bugs bite and sting. So gloves, a net and tweezers are nice to have! When we go on a nature scavenger hunt, we try not to harm the things we are studying. So plan to release them after you are finished.


Items you will need to take with you.

  • Magnifying Glass.
  • Jar (with small air holes punched in the lid) to hold specimen.  When we were little, we had something like this Bugwatch to use to examine bugs (and anything else we could fit in these containers)!
  • Gloves.
  • Tweezers.
  • Bug Net.
  • Notebook.
  • Pencil.
  • Camera. Our grandmother gave us real cameras when we were really little. I think I was six. I still have this camera and it is still takes great pictures. I do have to use tape on the battery compartment to keep it closed because I broke the cover several years ago!

bug and insect identification

When you find a bug to study you can either look at it there where you found it or put it in your container.  See if you can tell if it is an insect or bug by reviewing the chart above. Take a picture of it or draw it. My brother is writing a whole series on Nature Journaling. This might be a great time to start one!


Here are some great products that helped me write this article. I thought you might find them helpful too.

Flying Creatures by Apologia. This is the science curriculum we use in our homeschool.

Bugs. The World’s Best Terrifying Insects. We have had this book for years, but my brothers and I have all just sat around and read this book because it is so good.

Bug Hunter by Smithsonian. It is a hands-on guide to the natural world.

I hope this gives you an idea of what the differences are between bugs and insects.  I’ll be writing lots of articles about insects in our backyard and we will talk about both, so I wanted to start here so we all could understand the differences… but I’ll still probably slip up and call them bugs!

I hope you enjoyed my article … until next time!

About Blake

Blake is an eleven year old homeschooled boy who lives on Live and Learn Farm and blogs about his experiences. He loves to cook, play soccer, read classics, play minecraft and hang out with his cats. He is in the fifth grade and he is studying: Algebra 1 (Teaching Textbooks), Science in the Beginning, Exercises in English and Vocabulary in Action (Loyola Press), All About Spelling, IEW, TRISMS History Masterminds and One Year Adventure Novel.


  1. salena says:

    Wonderful information, keep up the good work !

    • Shalom Salena! Thanks for leaving a comment. This was a hard one to write, It took a long time research it, but still was very fun! And I learned a lot too I think I’ll enjoy writing the others, not that I didn’t like writing this one 😉

  2. Apollonia says:

    I actually scared of bugs, and we think YOU DID AWESOME telling us about the bugs.

    • Well, It took some time to actually figure out a way to write it that was understandable…LOL! 😉 Iv’e seen some pictures of your kids, I LOVE how you match their outfits! Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  3. This was an awesome post! Thanks for sharing. It will be very helpful in my upcoming school year. Nicely laid out, well written too!

    • I’m glad I could help! Originally when I started this series I didn’t enjoy writing it that much, but I really like it now, and I learn a lot while writing it! Thanks for leaving a comment 🙂

  4. Jennifer s says:

    This is fantastic!!! Great work!! Will have to come back and visit your blog again! #impressed

    • I really liked writing this post, I hope that I can make my future posts as good as this one! 😉 Thanks for leaving a comment!

  5. Christine says:

    Great article! My boys and I love to explore our backyard and this gave us inspiration to find more bugs and insects.

    • We like exploring for bugs too! If you find some interesting insects that I haven’t researched, tell me about it, and I’ll do a post 🙂 Thanks for leaving me a comment!

  6. Tamera/Drake/Nikolas says:

    This is wonderful! I love how detailed and involved you have made this. Great job. Keep it up!

    • It took a LONG time to get all the information, but I really liked writing it! Thanks for leaving a great comment! 🙂

  7. Blake,
    What a fantastic article! I myself, do not enjoy bugs OR insects, or so I thought… until I discovered a passion for Hermit Crabs! We have 3 of them in a 40 gallon “crabitat”. They share many features with insects, segmented bodies, however they hare decappds. Exoskeleton, the molting process and multiple life phases. Your article has inspired me to review the information I have about my pets. Thank you so much!
    Robin Juarez

    • I used to have a friend that had two Hermit Crabs! I loved watching them crawl around! Although I didn’t really study them that much how I would now days, they were still pretty cool 😉

      I just did some research and figured out that Crustacean’s are actually closely related to arthropods, such as Spiders, Scorpions and others. That’s what I love about researching all these bugs and insects, you get to learn so many new things! Thanks for leaving a great comment! 🙂

  8. Hi Blake. Thank you for writing this post. My husband and I were discussing the differences between bug and insect just this week. Using a taxonomic classification was not clear enough. I love how well you explained it all. Keep up the great work!

    • You were? How coincidental! Thanks for all the encouragement! I’m really enjoying writing this, even though at first it was tough at the start. Again, thanks for all the encouragement, and for leaving a comment! 🙂

  9. I learned so much here, thank you! I will be sharing this with friends. Great work, clear and concise.

    • I learned a lot while writing it too! I knew a few of the basic things, but I never knew how much actually there was to learn about insects! Thanks for leaving a comment, and being so encouraging! 🙂

  10. Well written! Thank you for sharing your research on bugs/insects.

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