Archive | 12:00 pm

In a Name – lady beetles and insect naming

12 Jul

Ladybug in the leaves.

Here’s the familiar adult form of the strange little guys from the last post.  These are commonly known as lady beetles, ladybugs, and sometimes even ladybirds.  Ever wondered about the difference between ‘ladybug’ and ‘lady beetle’? (Too bad, I’m telling you anyway!)

Here’s an interesting little trick I learned for figuring out the correct spelling for those weird mix-up common names that pop up frequently in insects (and other groups!).

If the insect name contains a word that describes a group it is actually part of, that word can stand alone.  So, in the case of the beetle above, we get ‘lady beetle.’  Another good example of this would be ‘horse fly,’ which is, in fact, a type of fly. (But not a type of horse.)

If the insect name contains a word that describes a group it not actually part of, the words are run together.  So, we have ‘ladybug’ and ‘ladybird.’  Most people will have no problem remembering that a ladybird is not actually any type of bird.  The ‘bug’ question may seem a bit more confusing, but remember ‘true bugs’ belong to the familyHemiptera.  Beetles are not ‘true bugs.’  Thus, ‘ladybug,’ all one word.  Other good examples of this are ‘butterfly‘ and ‘dragonfly,‘ neither of which are flies.

What’s the point of this?  Well, you can hazard a good guess that armyworms and silkworms aren’t actually worms. In fact, they are both types of caterpillar (butterfly larvae).  Similarly glowworms is a widely used common name for a number of insect larvae, including those of fireflies.  For that matter fireflies aren’t flies–they’re beetles!

Don’t get carried away, however.  While yellow jackets are not actually jackets, it is perfectly acceptable to leave the space. (A yellow jacket jacket would be uncomfortable.)