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Flying Bugs

Identifying Common Flying Bugs

Flying bugs exist all over the world, and while some are very easy to recognize, others may require a little research.

The following is a quick reference guide to telling the difference between a few of the most common types of flying bugs.


A great number of airborne insects belong to the order diptera, including gnats, houseflies, horseflies, and mosquitoes. Flies live and thrive in all places of the world except for the most extremely cold areas. The common features in most flies are, of course, wings. The wings are typically clear or opaque, and all flies have legs protruding from their abdomens. Fly larvae are commonly referred to as “maggots,” and are small and wormlike in appearance. Many species of flies are known to congregate around animals, garbage, and food. Common houseflies and fruit flies don’t bite, but certain types of flies – usually found in more rural areas – can and will bite. While they don’t carry venom or poison, some types of flies can transmit disease to humans so try to avoid being bitten by using insect repellant.


With distinctive black and yellow markings, these creatures are very striking and most people know a bee when they see one. Too often, though, we mistake wasps and hornets for bees. Wasps, while closely related and similar in appearance, are not bees. Bees are typically hairy and gather pollen from plants. They live in colonies inside honeycombs and are not usually the culprit when it comes to humans getting stung.  They are quite non-confrontational and will only attack if their colony and/or queen are threatened. Most stings come from wasps, like hornets and yellow jackets, which can be recognized by the lack of fuzz on their bodies, as well as the papery nests they build. Wasps feed on insect larvae, and will often seek to dine on your picnic foods as well. Wasps have even been known to steal the honey made by their bee cousins. While a bee will die after stinging, the wasp can sting as many times as it wants and is not shy about doing so. Try not to disturb wasps and steer clear of their nests when you see them.

See Related: Ground Bees

Moths & Butterflies

Some of the most beautiful winged insects are moths and butterflies. Identifiable by their large and often colorful wings, moths and butterflies are different than one another in some ways. Up close, the disparities between butterflies and moths can be observed. For one, the butterfly’s wings will sit at an angle coming up out of its body when at rest. Moth wings typically lie flat, parallel with the body. Moths also tend to be fuzzy, whereas butterflies have more smooth bodies. Moths have been on the earth much longer than butterflies. Both metamorphose into winged creatures after completing their larval state, though the butterfly completes its change inside a pupa while the moth does so in a silken cocoon.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Members of a very old order of insects, dragonflies and damselflies rival butterflies in sheer beauty. With long, colorful bodies and two sets of shimmering iridescent wings, these creatures have an almost mystical appearance and are favorites of insect enthusiasts.

These flying bugs have been on the earth for millions of years, and their fossilized ancestors have been found around the world. Both damselflies and dragonflies have very large eyes and elongated slender abdomens. The hind wings of dragonflies are larger than the front ones, enabling them to fly faster than damselflies, whose wings are all relatively equal in size. Another notable difference between the two is that damselflies have hinged wings that can be closed when the insect is at rest. Dragonfly wings do not have this feature.

Obviously, there are many more kinds of flying bugs including beetles and roaches, termites and ants, grasshoppers and lightning bugs, the list goes on and on. It can be fun to identify and observe the different types of flying bugs that live in your particular area.

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