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Insect Basics

  • All insect adults have 6 legs, but the larval stage can have many or no legs
  • Arthropods other than insects can have more than six legs (spiders, mites, ticks, harvestmen, etc. have eight legs; millipedes, centipedes, and sow bugs have more than eight legs)
general insect
  • antennae: attached to head; used to sense the environment
  • head, thorax, abdomen: major body segments of all insects
  • wings: used to fly
  • legs: used to walk, run or crawl
general insect showing abdominal segments

On an insect that doesn't have wings, the abdominal segments () are visible.

Helpful Hints about Beetles

general beetle

This arrow marks the division between the pair of elytra, the hard, shell-like outer wings of most beetles.

beetle in flight
beetle in flight, photo by Erich G. Vallery, USDA Forest Service - SRS-4552,

During fight, the elytra lift and allow the second pair of wings to work.

How to Tell Ants from Termites

ant vs. termite

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Photo: USDA Forest Service Archive, USDA Forest Service,

This is important because if you are trying to exterminate termites, you need to know that you don't have ants instead.

Sometimes ants and termites have wings, and sometimes they don't.

Ants and termites are social insects, and only the queens and males ever have wings. Soldier and Worker ants and termites (all sterile females), never have wings. You are likely to see only worker ants and termites, although at times large swarms of winged ants and termites will gather when they are looking for mates.

Ants Termites

winged carpenter antQueen carpenter ant (.5-.7", 13-17 mm)

termite, alateQueen termite (3/8", 10 mm)

pavement antsPavement ant workers; worker ants do not have wings.

Photo: Sarah Vanek,

worker and soldier termitesSoldier and worker termites have no wings.

Photo: Gary Alpert, Harvard University,

Did this Pest Key help you?

Unless otherwise noted, all photos and illustrations by NYS IPM Staff