What Are True Bugs in the Order Hemiptera?

Habits and Traits of True Bugs

A true bug.
The boxelder bug, a typical true bug. Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

When is a bug really a bug? When it belongs to the order Hemiptera – the true bugs. Hemiptera comes from the Greek words hemi, meaning half, and pteron, meaning wing. The name refers to the insects' fore wings, which are hardened near the base and membranous near the ends. This gives the appearance of a half wing.

This diverse group of insects includes cicadas, aphids, hoppers, and water bugs.

What Are True Bugs?

Though members of this order may look quite different from one another, Hemipterans share common characteristics.

True bugs are best defined by their mouthparts, which are modified for piercing and sucking. Many members of Hemiptera feed on plant fluids like sap and require the ability to penetrate plant tissues. Some Hemipterans, like aphids, can do considerable damage to plants by feeding in this way.

While the fore wings of Hemipterans are only half membranous, the hind wings are entirely so. When at rest, the insect folds all four wings over each other, usually flat. Some members of Hemiptera lack hind wings.

Hemipterans have compound eyes and may have as many as three ocelli (photoreceptor organs that receive light through a simple lens).

The order Hemiptera is usually subdivided into four suborders:

  1. Auchenorrhyncha – the hoppers
  2. Coleorrhyncha – a single family of insects that live among mosses and liverworts
  3. Heteroptera - the true bugs
  4. Sternorrhyncha – aphids, scale, and mealy bugs

Major Infraorders or Superfamilies in the Order

As with any order in the animal kingdom, classifying Hemipterans can become pretty complicated.

Within the order, Hemiptera includes the following infraorders and superfamilies.

  • Aphidoidea - aphids
  • Pentatomoidea – shield bugs
  • Gerromorpha – water striders, water crickets
  • Cicadoidea - cicadas
  • Tingidae – lace bugs
  • Coccoidea – scale insects

Habitat and Distribution

The order of true bugs is so diverse that their habitats vary greatly.

They are in abundance worldwide. Hemiptera includes terrestrial and aquatic insects, and members of the order may also be found on plants and animals. 

Interesting True Bugs You Might Know

Many of the true bug species are interesting and have distinct behaviors that distinguish them from other bugs. While we could go into great length about all these intricacies, here are a few that are of special interest from this order.

  • Marine skaters in the genus Halobates live their entire lives on the surface of the ocean. They lay eggs on floating objects.
  • The family Pentatomidae (better known as stink bugs) have glands in the thorax that emit a foul-smelling compound. This defense helps them repel potential predators.
  • Cicadas of the genus Magicicada are famous for their odd life cycles. Cicada nymphs stay underground for 13 or 17 years after which they emerge in large numbers and with a deafening song.
  • Females of the genus Belostoma (giant water bugs) lay their eggs on the back of a male. The male cares for the eggs, bringing them to the surface for proper aeration.

Sources

Gordon's Hemiptera Page; Gordon Ramel.

Field Guide to Common Texas Insects; Texas A&M University website. 

Hemiptera - Suborder Heteroptera; Dr. John Meyer; North Carolina State University Department of Entomology website. 

Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2007.