What's the Difference Between a Bug and an Insect?

Welcome to What’s the Difference, the newsletter committed to bringing you a decisive hit of random, wholly unseasonal knowledge in spite of the thrum of season’s greetings and BOGO deals and shipping notifications overtaking your inbox. Because let’s face it: you probably thought insects and bugs were the same thing, right?? Spoiler: THEY’RE NOT. Read on, my little elves. 

In classic biology taxonomy, all insects belong to a class called Insectasix-legged organisms with three-part bodiesjointed legstwo antennae, and compound eyes (visual organs made up of many visual units clustered together, all with their own corneas and lenses). Insecta falls within the phylum Arthropoda: cold-blooded creatures with an exoskeleton and no backbone. Your classic insects include bees, mosquitoes, butterflies, and ants—all of which fall into a variety of orders/families/genuses/species within the Insecta category.

One of those orders is called Hempitera, and it’s where the bugs live. Bugs are types of insects with certain defining characteristics: 1) They have a mouth shaped like a straw, called a stylet, that’s used to suck up juices from plants or blood from other insects or animals. 2) They have no teeth. 3) They have some weird stuff going on with their wings: their front wings are thickened and colored where they attach to the body and taper out towards the back end of the wing, and their hind wings are usually clear and tucked under the front wings. Some example of true bugs include beetles, stink bugs, and cicadas.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that there’s been no mention of spiders, and that’s because…spiders aren’t insects! Spiders, ticks, mites, and scorpions all belong to a class called Arachnida, a separate class from Insecta within the Arthropoda phylum. Arachnids have eight legs instead of six, two-part bodies instead of three, and simple eyesinstead of compound eyes. They also have different dining rituals: to eat, they inject digestive fluids into their prey before sucking up the liquefied remains. 

So, in summary: All bugs are insects. All insects aren’t bugs. And arachnids are their own separate category, with table manners that I’m looking to for #inspiration this holiday season. Bon appétit!

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