Is It Okay to Call an Insect a Bug?

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Lately, some Facebook fans of this site have criticized its liberal use of the word "bug" in certain articles. They feel the articles do my readers a disservice by calling the weekly identification challenge "Bug of the Week." Susan P. wrote to chide, "it would be nice to teach people correct terminology."

Okay, fair enough. Yes, people should know the difference between a bug and an insect. Technically, or taxonomically, a bug is an insect belonging to the order Hemiptera, known commonly as the true bugs.

Aphids, cicadas, assassin bugs, ants, and a variety of other insects claim membership in the order Hemiptera.

All bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs. Beetles are not true bugs, nor are butterflies or bees or flies. The article 15 Misconceptions About Insects makes a point to explain this frequent misuse of the term bug.

Yet, collectively, we use the words insect and bug as synonyms. When writers do so, it is often to keep the reader interested. Insects already have a bad reputation, so whatever we can do to combat that while educating the public may not be such a bad thing.

Many Entomologists Use 'Bug,' Too

In my defense, the word bug is widely used to describe just about any arthropod, from decidedly non-insect critters like millipedes and pillbugs to arachnids like spiders and ticks. There are even some bug books that include snails and worms, which are clearly not insects.

I'm not the only one out here taking some poetic license with the word bug.

  • Gilbert Waldbauer is a respected entomologist from the University of Illinois. He authored an excellent volume called "The Handy Bug Answer Book" which covers everything from scorpions to silverfish.
  • The University of Kentucky's entomology department hosts a website called the Kentucky Bug Connection. They include information on keeping pet bugs, including tarantulas, mantids, and cockroaches, none of which are actually bugs.
  • The University of Florida's entomology department has sponsored a "Best of the Bugs" award honoring for outstanding insect-related websites. Among their honorees are sites on ants, beetles, flies, and butterflies - no actual bugs.
  • Iowa State's entomology department hosts one of the best arthropod sites around - Bugguide. The site is a database of information and photographs collected by amateur naturalists, covering virtually every North American arthropod. Only a small portion of the species listed belong to the order Hemiptera.

There are hundreds of other examples of entomologists who use the word 'bug' in the titles of their books, websites, and blogs. It is accepted that 'bug' refers to all sorts of creepy crawlies and that a smaller assortment of those actually includes the insects or true bugs of the world.

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Your Citation
Hadley, Debbie. "Is It Okay to Call an Insect a Bug?" ThoughtCo, Oct. 26, 2017, Hadley, Debbie. (2017, October 26). Is It Okay to Call an Insect a Bug? Retrieved from Hadley, Debbie. "Is It Okay to Call an Insect a Bug?" ThoughtCo. (accessed March 18, 2018).