15 Misconceptions Kids (And Adults) Have About Insects

Children looking at a caterpillar.
Children love to learn about insects. Getty Images/Blend Images/KidStock

Children develop their early understanding of insects from books, movies, and the adults in their lives. Unfortunately, insects in works of fiction aren't always portrayed with scientific accuracy, and adults may pass down their own misconceptions about insects. Some common misbeliefs about insects have been repeated for so long, it's difficult to convince people they aren't true. Consider the following statements, which are 15 of the most common misconceptions kids (and adults) have about insects. How many did you think were true?

01
of 15

Bees gather honey from flowers.

Honey bee on a flower.
A honey bee gathers nectar to make honey. Getty Images/Oxford Scientific/Ed Reschke

Flowers don't contain honey, they contain nectar. Honey bees convert that nectar, which is a complex sugar, into honey. The bee forages on flowers, storing nectar in a special "honey stomach" and then carrying it back to the hive. There, other bees take the regurgitated nectar and break it down into simple sugars using digestive enzymes. The modified nectar is then packed into the cells of the honeycomb. Bees in the hive fan their wings on the honeycomb to evaporate water out of the nectar. The result? Honey!

 

02
of 15

An insect has six legs, attached to the abdomen.

Dragonfly closeup.
An insect's legs are attached at the thorax, not the abdomen. Getty Images/EyeEm/Richie Gan

Ask a child to draw an insect, and you'll learn what they really know about the insect body. Many children will place the insect's legs incorrectly at the abdomen. It's an easy mistake to make, since we associate our legs with the bottom end of our bodies. In truth, an insect's legs are attached at the thorax, not the abdomen.

 

03
of 15

You can tell the age of a lady bug by counting the number of spots on its wings.

Ladybug closeup.
A ladybug's spots can't tell you its age, but might tell you its species. Getty Images/AFP Creative/CHRISTIAN PUYGRENIER

Once a lady beetle reaches adulthood and has wings, it is no longer growing and molting. Its colors and spots remain the same throughout its adult life; they are not indicators of age. Many lady beetle species are named for their markings, however. The seven-spotted lady beetle, for example, has seven black spots on its red back.

 

04
of 15

Insects live on land.

Diving beetle.
Think all insects live on land? Think again!. Getty Images/All Canada Photos/Barrett & MacKay

Few children encounter insects in aquatic environments, so it's understandable for them to think no insects live on water. It is true that few of the world's million-plus insect species live in aquatic environments. But just as there are exceptions to every rule, there are some insects that make their living on or near the water. Caddisflies, stonefliesmayfliesdragonflies and damselflies all spend part of their lives in fresh water bodies. Intertidal rove beetles are true beach bums that live along the shores of our oceans. Marine midges inhabit tidal pools, and the rare marine sea skaters spend their lives at sea.

 

05
of 15

Spiders, insects, ticks, and all other creepy crawlies are bugs.

Shield bug.
True bugs is the common name for insects of the order Hemiptera. Flickr user daniela (CC by SA license)

We use the term bug to describe just about any creeping, crawling invertebrate we encounter. In the true entomological sense, a bug is something quite specific – a member of the order Hemiptera. Cicadas, aphids, hoppers, and stink bugs are all bugs. Spiders, ticksbeetles, and flies are not.

 

06
of 15

It's illegal to harm a praying mantis.

Praying mantis.
Now why would you want to kill a praying mantis, anyway?. Getty Images/PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier

When I tell people this isn't true, they often argue with me. It seems that most of the United States believes the praying mantis is an endangered and protected species, and that harming one may draw a criminal penalty. The praying mantis is neither endangered nor protected by law. The source of the rumor is unclear, but it may have originated with the common name of this predator. People considered their prayer-like stance a sign of good luck, and thought harming a mantid would be a bad omen.

 

07
of 15

Insects try to attack people.

Boy afraid of bee.
Scary as it may feel, this bee is just making sure you're not a threat. Getty Images/Moment Open/elvira boix photography

Kids are sometimes afraid of insects, especially bees, because they think the insects are out to hurt them. It's true that some insects bite or sting people, but it isn't their intent to inflict pain on innocent children. Bees sting defensively when they feel threatened, so the child's actions often provoke the sting from the bee. Some insects, like mosquitoes, are just looking for a necessary blood meal.

 

08
of 15

All spiders make webs.

Jumping spider with prey.
Jumping spiders don't need webs to catch prey. Getty Images/Moment/Thomas Shahan

The spiders of storybooks and Halloween all seem to hang out in large, circular webs. While many spiders do, of course, spin webs of silk, some spiders build no webs at all. The hunting spiders, which include wolf spidersjumping spiders, and trapdoor spiders among others, pursue their prey rather than entrap them in a web. It is true, however, that all spiders produce silk, even if they don't use it to build webs.

 

09
of 15

Insects aren't really animals.

Butterfly resting on turtle's head.
The butterfly is an animal, just like the turtle. Getty Images/Westend6

Kids think of animals as things with fur and feathers, or perhaps even scales. When asked whether insects belong in this group, however, they balk at the idea. Insects seem different somehow. It's important for children to recognize that all arthropods, those creepy crawlies with exoskeletons, belong to the same kingdom we do – the animal kingdom.

10
of 15

A daddy longlegs is a spider.

Daddy longlegs.
A daddy longlegs is not a spider!. Getty Images/Stefan Arend

It's easy to see why kids would mistake the daddy longlegs for a spider. This long-legged critter behaves in many ways like the spiders they've observed, and it does have eight legs, after all. But daddy longlegs, or harvestmen, as they are also called, lack several important spider characteristics. Where spiders have two distinct, separated body parts, the cephalothorax and abdomen of the harvestmen are fused into one. Harvestmen lack both the silk and venom glands that spiders possess.

 

11
of 15

If it has eight legs, it’s a spider.

Tick closeup.
Ticks have eight legs, but they aren't spiders. Getty Images/BSIP/UIG

While it's true a spider has eight legs, not all critters with eight legs are spiders. Members of the class Arachnida are characterized, in part, by having four pairs of legs. Arachnids include a variety of arthropods, from ticks to scorpions. You just can't assume that any creepy crawly with eight legs is a spider.

 

12
of 15

If a bug is in the sink or tub, it came up from the drain.

Spider in sink.
Bugs in your sink didn't necessarily come out of the drain. Getty Images/Oxford Scientific/Mike Birkhead

You can't blame a kid for thinking that. After all, most adults seem to make this assumption, too. Insects don't hide in our plumbing, waiting for an opportunity to pop out and scare us. Our homes are dry environments, and insects and spiders seek out moisture. They're drawn to the more humid environment in our bathrooms and kitchens. Once an insect slips down the slope of a sink or bathtub, it has a hard time crawling back up and ends up stranded near the drain.

 

13
of 15

Insects sing like we do, with their mouths.

Cicada.
Cicadas sing, but not with their mouths. Getty Images/Aurora/Karsten Moran

While we refer to the mating and defensive calls of insects as songs, insects can't produce sounds in the same way we do. Insects do not have vocal cords. Instead, they produce sounds by using different body parts to make vibrations. Crickets and katydids rub their forewings together. Cicadas vibrate special organs called tymbals. Locusts rub their legs against their wings.

 

14
of 15

Small insects with wings are baby insects that will grow up to be adults.

Tiny insect next to coin for scale.
A tiny winged insect is not a "baby" insect. Flickr user Mark Lee

If an insect has wings, it's an adult, no matter how tiny it might be. Insects only grow as nymphs or larvae. During that stage, they grow and molt. For insects that undergo simple, or incomplete metamorphosis, the nymph molts one final time to reach winged adulthood. For those that undergo complete metamorphosis, the larvae pupates. The adult then emerges from the pupa. Winged insects have already reached their adult size, and will not grow any larger.

 

15
of 15

All insects and spiders are bad and should be killed

Man with fly swatter.
Think before you swat. Getty Images/E+/cglade

Children follow the lead of adults when it comes to insects. An entomophobic parent who sprays or squashes every invertebrate in her path will undoubtedly teach her child the same behavior. But few of the arthropods we encounter in our everyday lives are threats of any kind, and many are vital to our own well-being. Insects fill many important jobs in the ecosystem, from pollination to decomposition. Spiders prey on insects and other invertebrates, keeping pest populations in check. It's worth knowing when (if ever) an insect warrants a squishing and when it deserves to be left alone, and teaching our children to respect invertebrates as they would any other wildlife.