Ever find yourself asking that question? Ever look at the bug and have no idea where to start? Well, it happens to us all. Most recently I spotted a rather interesting specimen on my Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) a.k.a. Southern Bayberry. I snapped a few photos. He looked a little like a stink bug, but appeared a little too round. I glanced through my favorite bug id book co-authored by Eric R. Eaton Kaufman Guide to Insects of North America
…Stink bugs, plant bugs, shield bugs, beetles, none matched up.
I thought this was probably a nymph of some true bug, and those can be nearly impossible to identify. I looked through several Websites that I routinely use to identify Florida insects, but none came up with a match. Sooooo, I headed to twitter to seek out some help from a fellow Florida buggy person. The conversation went like this:
Not the best photos:
No definitive answer and I was distracted by other things in the garden so I shelved my research while I worked on other more pressing things. A few days later I eyed another similar insects on the same wax myrtle. Woo hoo, I think this is an adult of whatever that other guy was.
Reinvigorated by the new additional information, I plugged @AndyBugGuy’s suggested “Pentatomidae” and my plant observation of “wax myrtle” into my Goodsearch search engine (might as well earn a little dough for the Florida Native Plant Society while I’m at it). ok… let’s see what you got Yahoo…
ahhhhh, several results. lesseeeeee…..
“Plant Host Records List by Host Species – NDSU – North Dakota http://www.ndsu.nodak.edu/ndsu/rider/Pentatomoidea/Hosts/plant_records_byhost.htm”
woahhhhhhhh, that looks like a winner.
click click. “List by Host Species”. Time for a page search “w-a-x m-y-r-t-l-e” Well I’ll be:
Morella cerifera (Linnaeus) Small [wax myrtle]
Symphylus caribbeanus (Blatchley, 1926, as Symphylus deplanatus)”
Note: Morella cerifera is a synonym of Myrica cerifera, both refer to wax myrtle.
I check bugguide under the Symphylus genus
A single species in our area(1)
On Morella cerifera (Myricaceae)(2)
(1) American Insects: A Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico Ross H. Arnett. 2000. CRC Press.
(2) Pentatomoidea Host Index”
Seems I am on the right track. The pictures look very similar. I’d like to find out a little more information so I plug “Symphylus” in the Goodsearch search engine and found:
A nice comparison between Look-alikes: Megacopta and Symphylus.
So, now I am pretty confident that I have found my match given that there is only one species in our area. Tis a Shieldbacked bug.
Order Hemiptera – True Bugs, Cicadas, Hoppers, Aphids and Allies
Suborder Heteroptera – True Bugs
Family Scutelleridae – Shield-backed Bugs
Species caribbeanus – Symphylus caribbeanus
The lesson learned is that if you are trying to find out what the insect is, just like caterpillars are often identified by what plant they are eating, so too are other arthropods. Always figure out what the host plant is, as it might just lead you towards finding the correct identification of your unknown friend.
Other places to search when you have a piece or two of the puzzle:
A Web of Life Partner database. Try Global Listing for all Living Things and plug in what taxa information you have. You might be surprised what comes up. You can often identify the plant by what insect is feeding on it, or the insect by what plant it eats or what other arthropod it is using as a host. While not complete, this is a work in progress and more data is added all the time.
If you don’t have a field guide, another good basic starting place to figure out family is your local 4-H club Website: Florida.
Pbase.com: I’ve discovered a few photographers who have thumbnail listings of Florida insects. I keep separate bookmarks for them based on type of insect, e.g., spider, butterfly, dragonfly, etc. You can probably find similar for your regional area.
Once I have an idea of the family of insects, I can find keys from the University of Florida Entomology/Nematology Department Introduction to the Identification of Insects And Related Arthropods.Check the Website of your regional University’s Entomology Department.
Buguide.net recently added thumbnails to the advanced search and that is a wonderful addition. You can now view the small scale photos in the search results. I use this often to limit the data to Florida species to quickly move through their enormous database.
You can post photos to Bugguide.net, whatsthatbug.com, butterfliesandmoths.org, odonatacentral.org and other similar online websites and wait for an answer from the experts, or join a Facebook group either by regional area or general area of interest. Being a citizen scientist is fun and can be very rewarding!
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