Harvard University's Caribbean Insects: Thysanura

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The Hemiptera are a large and diverse insect order, with about 50,000 species known worldwide in some 100 families. The order is currently divided into 3 suborders: Heteroptera, Auchenorrhyncha and Sternorrhyncha. Historically, however, members of this order were split into 2 different orders: Hemiptera (currently the suborder Heteroptera) and Homoptera (currently the suborders Auchenorrhyncha and Sternorrhyncha).

The suborder Heteroptera, the true bugs, includes all of the aquatic families of Hemiptera, such as giant water bugs (Belostomatidae), and water boatmen (Corixidae). It also includes bed bugs (Cimicidae), known for biting humans, the large seed bug family (Lygaeidae) and the odorous stink bugs (Pentatomidae), among many others. The suborder Auchenorrhyncha includes cicadas (Cicadidae) and hoppers. The suborder Sternorrhyncha includes many inactive or sedentary insects, such as aphids (Aphididae) and scale insects (superfamily Coccoida).

All hemipterans have mouthparts that are modified for piercing and sucking. The mandibles and maxillae have been modified into stylets and are bundled together with the labium to form a rostrum, commonly called a beak. The beak contains two canals, one for obtaining food and one for delivering saliva. Up to three ocelli may be present.
Individuals in the suborder Heteroptera are distinguishable by their half-leathery, half-membranous forewing, called a hemelytron, and the fact that the beak arises from the front part of the head. In the other two suborders, the forewings, when present, are either wholly leathery or wholly membranous, and the beak arises from the posterior part of the head. In all three suborders, the hindwings are membranous, and are usually hidden underneath the forewings.

Feeding habits among the hemipterans vary widely, although the majority are plant feeders, taking sap from all parts of the plant. Many are predatory, ambushing other insects or spiders, then sucking the liquid out of the body. Some hemipterans are also blood feeders, and will feed on humans, birds, bats and other animals.

Life cycles can vary widely as well among the Hemiptera, although most are hemimetabolous, with the nymph resembling the adult except for the undeveloped wings and genitalia. Many aphid species, however, exhibit parthenogenesis, or development from unfertilized eggs, as part of a reproductive cycle that also includes sexual reproduction.


Please browse and download our Field Guides to insect families and see our Caribbean Taxonomic Literature lists for available PDFs.


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