Identifying Insects for your Collection

Identifying Insects for your Collection

Once you catch your insects, you will need to identify them for your collection. In some cases, identifying the insect to the order is sufficient, but in other cases you might want to be more specific. For example, I typically identify my insect specimens down to the family and common name. I recommend you invest in a good set of field guides that identify to the major families. The Peterson Field Guide is the guide I use most because it uses specific anatomical identifiers like tarsal segments and wing ventilation. I also recommend a field microscope with a magnification of 60x to 100x.  Another excellent resource for identifying specimens is In fact, is probably the resource I use most in identifying insects down to the genes and species.

identifying insects to the Family is sufficient
For most insect collections, identifying insects to the Family is sufficient.

Once I have identified the insect specimen, I then prepare the labels. I use 2 labels on my pins. The first label, just below the specimen, contains all of the collecting data ie, date found, location, and who collected it. The second label contains the common name. I seldom use a third label, but when I do it contains the genes and species.

Diversity of Life

Our living world is filled with diversity. At least 1.7 million different living organisms have been discovered, and more are being discovered every day. Of all the different types of living organisms discovered, more than half of them are insects, Some scientist believe that there could be as many as 10 million different species of insects. With all this diversity in, on, and around our world, there needs to be an efficient way to categorize them all.

How Do we Categorize Living Organisms?

Taxonomy is the science of the classification and is a useful tool in identifying insects. In fact, each discovered living organism is given a scientific name and that is the name used by scientist world wide. Some organisms are also known locally by one or more common names. Additionally,  some common names describe more than one type of organism. A water Bug, for example has been used to describe both the Smokey-brown Cockroach and a type of water insect. Scientist use scientific names to avoid confusion. Below is an example of the scientific classification (the taxonomy) of a type of Honey Bee.

  • Kindom – Animalia
  • Phylum – Arthopoda
  • Class – Insecta
  • Order – Hymenoptera
  • Genes – Apis
  • species – mellifera
Binomial Nomenclature

Originally developed by Carolus Linnaeus, binomial nomenclature is a system of classification by which organisms are hierarchically classified into increasingly specific groups. The Honey Bee example above show the seven basic taxonomical classification, Kingdom being the broadest category and species being the most specific.