Another order is Hymenoptera, which includes ants, bees, and wasps, most with pinched waists that give them an hourglass shape, although this can be difficult to see in bees, which are stocky. Two examples of Hymenoptera are the common eastern bumblebee, which like other bumblebees is quite stout and covered with hairs, and the paper wasp, which like most wasps is slender, smooth, and shiny.
Of all the insect orders, Coleoptera, or beetles, are the most diverse. Beetle features are harder to see but make them easy to ID once you do. First, beetles have mouthparts called “mandibles” for chewing and not for stabbing (like mosquitoes) or sucking (like butterflies). Their first pair of wings are also modified into hard outer coverings, called “elytra,” that fully cover their soft flying wings. Common coleopterans include fireflies, ladybugs, and June bugs. You may also spot the distinctive (and fast) metallic green six-spotted tiger beetle on sunny forest preserve trails.
Now onto the order Orthoptera, the grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids, most with large well-developed hind legs for jumping. Grasshoppers, usually green or brown with short, stubby antennae, make clicking sounds with their wings as they spring from place to place. Crickets are black or brown and smaller with long, slender antennae. They produce a chirping sound with their legs. And if you see something big and green with long antennae (or hear a staccato “katy-did-katy-didn’t” call at night), that’s a katydid!
Both members of the Odonata order, dragonflies and damselflies, are often found near water (they spend most of their larval stages developing underwater), and both have large well-developed eyes and four distinct flying wings. But there’s one sure way to tell them apart. Dragonflies at rest hold their wings straight out from their bodies; damselflies usually fold their wings over their bodies like butterflies.
Finally, let’s wrap up our short selection of insects by looking at the “true flies” of the order Diptera. True flies are unique because they have only one set of flying wings; the other pair is modified into tiny clubs that act as stabilizers. Like Odonata, true flies have large, well-developed eyes that take up much of their heads. One of the most well-known is the ubiquitous housefly, but if you spend time outside you’ve likely met its biting cousins, the horsefly and deer fly. Females of the latter two have sharp stabbing mouthparts like those of mosquitoes, which are another type of true fly. (Crane flies, large true flies with long, thin legs, are often mistaken for mosquitoes, but crane flies do not bite.) To make things more interesting, there are also syrphid flies, or hoverflies, many of which have yellow and brown stripes, which make them look like bees. However, syrphid flies have one set of flying wings and the stereotypical large eyes of true flies, and none of them sting.
There’s a lot to examine in the insect world, but if you grab a good field guide, focus on key features, and learn a few different ones each year, you’ll be on your way to identifying “which insect is it” in DuPage forest preserves in no time!