Identification

The Hemiptera group of insects are the only insects that are formally named bugs. They have various body shapes and habits but all have piercing mouthparts (rostrum) which are used to suck liquids from plants or animals. True bugs may sometimes be confused with beetles, cockroaches or booklice, but none of these have sucking mouthparts.

True bugs go through incomplete metamorphosis, the nymphs often being similar in appearance and habits to the adult.

The true bugs are divided into two sub-orders, Heteroptera and Homoptera. The most obvious difference between the suborders is wing structure. Both groups contain many familiar insects: the Heteroptera includes the shield bugs and capsid bugs whilst the Homoptera includes aphids, whiteflies, leafhoppers, mealybugs and scale insects. The Heteroptera usually have forewings that are divided into two regions, a leathery stiffened area at the base and a membranous tip, whereas the Homoptera have fore wings that are entirely membranous or entirely stiffened.

Size

From 1mm (for example Euonymus scale males) to over 3 cm (for example the water stick-insect)

Distribution

Everywhere in the UK.

Status

Over 80,000 species of true bug have been described worldwide, over 2000 species occur in the UK. Biodiversity action plans have been developed for four species.

Where to find them in the garden

Everywhere. Many species feed on plant sap, including the 500 species of aphids (greenfly and blackfly) found in the UK. Garden ponds support a variety of true bugs, including water boatmen, water scorpions and pond skaters.

Role in the garden

The true bugs that feed on plants can affect plant growth, transmit plant viruses and their sticky (honeydew) excrement can foul areas under infested plants. The plant pests, such as aphids, are a vital part of the food chain, providing food for ladybirds, hoverfly larvae, parasitic wasps and birds. Other true bugs, such as the hawthorn shield bug feed on plant sap but have no detrimental affect on garden plants. Some bugs provide visual interest such as the dock shield bug which can be found sun bathing on large leaved plants in the autumn. Some true bugs are predatory; the common flower bug is a predator of many garden pests including aphids and spider mites.