Even though they are commonly referred to as bugs, ants are scientifically not recognized as such. They are insects.
The difference between bugs and insects can be very challenging to point out. However, science provides a clear distinction between the two.
Whereas the term ‘bugs’ is generally used to refer to most small land creatures that move by crawling, there are particular ones that are scientifically grouped as bugs. They are called Hemiptera. Ants are not among them.
To distinguish bugs from the rest of the insects, the bugs that belong in group Hemiptera are normally known as the true bugs.
What Is The Difference Between Bugs And Insects?
In most cases, ‘insects’ is used in formal, scientific settings, while ‘bugs’ is used in more casual scenarios. Even though ‘bugs’ and ‘insects’ are often used interchangeably, they do not necessarily mean the same thing. They have anatomical and functional differences that set them apart.
Essentially, all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs. True bugs belong to an order under the kingdom of insects known as Order Hemiptera. They have distinguishing characteristics that set them apart from the rest of the insects. These factors include:
1. The Mouthparts
The main characteristic that sets bugs apart is their mouthparts. Since most members of the true bugs feed on plant fluids, their mouthparts are modified for sucking and piercing. Therefore, they have a straw-shaped mouth that is known as a proboscis that they use for sapping juice from plants or sucking blood from animals.
Insects, on the other hand, have mouthparts that are adapted to biting, chewing, and sponging. Therefore, their mouthparts are made up of mandibles, maxillae, labium, and labellum. Mandibles, maxillae, and labium are found in insects that bite and chew their food. The labellum is a mouthpart for sponging insects.
2. The Wing Structures
True bugs have tough wings which are thick and dark where they meet the body but thin out and become translucent at the rear end. Furthermore, the wings tend to fold over one another at rest, and some lack hind wings altogether.
Most insects do not have wings. Those that do, however, only have fore wings that are thin and colored or clear.
The antennae of true bugs are longer and have more pronounced segments than those of other insects.
Generally, insects are easier to define than bugs. Typically, all insects have three pairs of legs, two antennae, and a body divided into three segments: head, thorax, and abdomen. Some of the insects that people tend to mistake for bugs are ants, grasshoppers, bees, and flies.
Interestingly, some insects that have ‘bug’ in their names, such as ladybugs and June bugs are not true bugs. Members of true bugs- order Hemiptera include aphids, cicadas, bed bugs, planthoppers, and shield bugs.
Why Are Ants Insects (And Not Bugs)?
Just like many other insects, ants are often referred to as bugs. When people experience ant infestations in their homes, you will hear them say that they have a bug problem.
Still, an ant is not really a bug. Its features classify it squarely as an insect- if anything, ants belong to another order of insects- order Hymenoptera.
For one, ants have mandibles instead of a proboscis for their mouthparts. Mandibles are easily an ant’s most important body part. Not only do ants use their mandibles for biting food, but they also use them for cutting, digging, hunting, holding, and carrying things. Beneath the mandibles, ants have mouths that they use for chewing and cleaning themselves.
Additionally, ants have three body parts: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. However, these parts are not very distinct as the abdomen and thorax are somewhat fused by the mesosoma.
While most don’t have wings, there is a particular subset of ants that do. These are the reproductive ants, and they only develop wings during the breeding season. Unlike bugs that have thick and dark wings, ants only have fore wings that are thin and clear.
Like all other insects, ants have three pairs of legs that they use to walk, run and swim in the case of fire ants. Essentially, ants have all the characteristics of insects and none to suggest that they could be members of true bugs.
Which Types Of Ants Are You Likely To Encounter In Your Home?
It is highly likely that you may have had to deal with ant infestations in your home. If that is the case, the most common ones that might invade your house include:
- Roger’s ants– These ants like to build nests in moist places such as around drainage systems, kitchen sinks, and bathroom tiles. These locations make it easy for them to prey on moisture-loving pests such as springtails. Roger’s ants are reddish-brown in appearance.
- The garden ants– These ants build their nests in garden soils beneath patios and paving stones. They like sugary foods and foods that are high in protein, such as meat and pet food.
- Pavement ants– You are most likely to encounter these little dark ants during summer and spring. If they manage to build a nest inside your house, then they may be around all through the year. Pavement ants eat anything they can get their hands on but have a special preference for sugary foods and meat.
- Ghost ants– The appearance of these ants is befitting to their name as they are almost translucent and very easy to miss. Just like the roger’s ant, they like to build their nests in damp areas, so you will find them in the kitchen and the bathroom.
- Pharaoh’s ants– These are the most common ants to find in homes as they build their nests exclusively indoors. Pharaoh’s ants are aggressive foragers and will feed on any food that is high in protein. Therefore, they feed on dead insects, meat, fat, and blood. These insects like to build their nests in hard-to-reach places of heated buildings.
Ants are often referred to as bugs as they fall under the category of land animals with more than six legs and move by crawling. ‘Bugs’ covers a wide range of small animals, including insects, arachnids, and even millipedes. The word is usually used in informal settings.
However, ants are not scientifically recognized as bugs. True bugs fall under the order Hemiptera of insects. They have distinguishing characteristics such as a proboscis for piercing and sucking and have thick and dark wings.
On the other hand, ants have mandibles, and for the species that have wings, they are light and translucent.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.