What is a bug, anyway?

One of my motives for starting Green Path was to document all the small wildlife I was discovering by prowling around my own garden with a camera, that is (to most people) bugs. But what is a bug, anyway, in more formal terms?

orange and black bug
True bug: Horehound Bug (Hemiptera)

If we want to be technical, bugs should really be limited to insects (six legs) so spiders are out. And to be even more technical, entomologists talk about “true bugs” which are a specific family of insects, Hemiptera (the sap-suckers – aphids, shield bugs, plant-hoppers, etc). The obvious implication is that non-Hemipteran insects are not really “bugs”, although I’ve never heard anyone actually say so.

I discussed this profound issue over a beer recently and we decided that all insects except butterflies and moths are bugs. So are millipedes, mites and ticks, which are not insects. Spiders? No, not really bugs, but not insects either. Crabs? Not bugs.

All of the above, however, are invertebrates (i.e. they don’t have backbones) and in fact they are all Arthropods, defined as “invertebrate animals having an exoskeleton (external skeleton), a segmented body, and jointed appendages.”

Mayfly hanging beneath a leaf
Bug: Mayfly (Ephemoptera)

What it all boils down to, I suspect, is that a “bug” is any small arthropod we don’t have a better name for. Frankly, I don’t worry about it too much: if a critter intrigues me or if it’s beautiful, I will want to know more and take a photo.

And “critters” = “creatures” so my scope is even broader than “bugs”. Insects, spiders, crabs, lizards, birds, koalas, people, whales … all critters, all deserving respect and understanding.

Critter: Bennett’s Wallaby

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