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A Bug Photographer's Guide to Critical Images Needed for Identification

Below is a list of example photographs that will help with spider and insect identification. These views will help in IDs when you also include location, date found, and size in millimeters. Please do not put rulers, coins, etc. or sign your images. The best photos have a natural setting (or plain background) and no other visual distractions from the subject.

Table of Contents:
ODONATA - Dragonflies & Damselflies
DICTYOPTERA - Mantids & Cockroaches
- Mantids
- Cockroaches
- Grasshoppers
- Katydids & Crickets
- True Bugs
- Free-living Hemipterans
- Plant-parasitic Hemipterans
- Ground Beetles
- Beetle Larvae
- Butterflies
- Moths
- Caterpillars
HYMENOPTERA - Ants, Bees, Wasps & Sawflies
ARANEAE - Spiders
ACARI - Mites & Ticks
CHILOPODA - Centipedes
DIPLOPODA - Millipedes



1. Side view:

2. Dorsal view showing tails:

3. Close-up of head showing eyes:



Additional data useful for identification includes habitat, time of day, location (especially
helpful here are the checklists from the internet sources cited on the guide page), and perching
habit and posture. Some species (setwings and dashers especially) typically perch with wings
cocked forward and down instead of straight out.

1. Dorsal view:
(Close-up of wing(s) for venation or other markings is sometimes helpful.)

2. Side view:

2. Face view:

3. Side view close-up of 'hind end':

4. Dorsal view close-ups of 'hind end':



Suborder Mantodea - Mantids

1. Dorsal view:

2. Side view:
(mating shots are helpful)

3. Close-up of legs:
(esp. from front tibia, anterior tibia & anterior femur, but also tarsal segmentation)

4. Close-up of face:

Suborder Blattaria - Cockroaches

1. Dorsal view:

2. Close-up of legs clearly showing spines on legs and the claws at the end:



Note: length is from front of head to tip of abdomen, excluding the forceps.

1. Dorsal view:
(Adult females have 8 segments, adult males have 10.)

2. Wings (if any) & Legs close-up:
(Whether there are any wings, their shape, and color patterns are all useful in taking ID to
family, and sometimes genus. Leg color (light or dark), and whether there's any rings around them.)

3. Antennae close-up:
(Looking for Number of segments, relative size of first several segments from the base to each other,
if there are white segments near the end, how many are white, and how many segments are between
them and the tip.)

4. Feet close-up:
(A close-up of the feet from the side can be very helpful in nailing down the family.)
(a closer view would be best, but this shows the side angle)

5. Forceps close-up:
(Curvature of the whole (whether symmetrical or different on one side), teeth and other structures on
the inside surface- both at the base and on the curved part. *A view from above or below (preferably with
the forceps closed) is very useful, especially with the males. This can be part of the overall dorsal view.)




1. Dorsal view:

2. Side view:

3. Thorax view:

4. Close-ups of 'hind end':

5. Close-up of pronotum when ridges are present:
(Side view is best.)

6. View of the hind-wing:
(Or at least record what color you saw & if it 'clicked' when it flew.)

7. View of the inner and outer markings on the hind leg:

Long-horned Orthoptera - Katydids & Crickets

1. Dorsal view:

2. Side view:

3. Female ovipositor side view:
(Be sure to include the entire body with females, because the ovipositor is often measured
against the length of the body.)

4. Male 'hind end' view:
(For katydids (i.e. Scudderia), the view of the male's hind end is much more useful from
behind rather than from the side, since it involves the shape of a plate perpendicular to
the body axis.)

5. Antennae length view:
(I'm not sure how helpful this is.)

6. Close-up of the head front and side in cone-heads:

7. Close-up of the base of antennae from a frontal view in tree crickets:



Heteroptera - True Bugs

1. Dorsal view:
(Also dorsal view of any nymphs found in the same area.)

2. Ventral view:
(Sometimes helpful, like with green stink bugs & water boatmen.)

3. Close-up of head and antennae:
(The antennae can help distinguish between beetles and and true bugs, this may be seen in a
clear dorsal view.)

4. Close-up of leg (or clear view):
(Number of tarsi distinguishes between shield bugs & stink bugs.)

Auchenorrhyncha - Free-living Hemipterans
(treehoppers, spittlebugs, leafhoppers, cicadas, planthoppers)

1. Dorsal view:

2. Side view:

3. Close-up of face:

4. Host plant:

Sternorrhyncha - Plant-parasitic Hemipterans
(scales, mealybugs, whiteflies, aphids, adgelids, psyllids, etc.)

1. Dorsal view:

2. Side view:

3. Gall/damage view (outside & inside):

4. Host plant view:


For and in-depth article on beetle photography see this PDF article.

1. Dorsal and side views:
(Be sure to show entire antennae in one shot. It is best that the dorsal view be oriented so the head
is at the top and the tip of the abdomen is at the bottom.)

2. Ventral/abdomen view:

3. Antenna close-up (or clear view):

4. Legs close-up:
(All three sets of legs are helpful in ID: the "tarsal formula" used to tell some families apart is
based on counting segments in the front, middle and hind legs.)

5. Mandibles close-up:

Family Carabidae - Ground Beetles

1. Dorsal view: A well-focused exactly perpendicular view of entire dorsal body.
(Side shots of carabids are less useful; often confusing the identification.)

2. Pronotum dorsal view close-up: A perpendicular close-up of the entire dorsal pronotum.

3. Ventral view: A perpendicular view of the entire ventral body is third in importance and
not necessary for identification in most cases.

Beetle Larvae

1. Dorsal view:

2. Host plant - esp. for leaf beetles



1. Dorsal view:

2. Side view:

3. Close-up of head including eyes and antennae:

4. Close-up of wing(s) to show venation or other markings:
(Dorsal view may be good enough in some cases.)


(Rotating your image to face the head upward allows for easier pattern comparison)

Papilionoidea - Butterflies

1. Dorsal view (showing top of forewing and hindwing):

2. Side view (showing underside of forewing and hindwing):

(It is best to have the dorsal view oriented so the head is at the top and the tip of the
abdomen is at the bottom.)

1. Dorsal view at rest showing pattern on the wings (if possible include hindwing pattern):

2. Side view (Photo should capture the entire wing edge where critical diagnostic markings
are often found, especially in tortricidea.1):

3. Clear view of the antennae - this can sometimes be seen in dorsal view:
(Thicker antennae usually means male, while thinner means female.)


1. Dorsal view:

2. Side view:
(Showing the location & number of legs helps with ID.)

3. Close-up of head:

4. Host plant:



1. Dorsal view:

2. Side view:

3. Close-up of head & antennae:

4. Close-up of wing(s) to show venation or other markings:
(Dorsal view may be good enough in some cases.)

5. Nest:

6. Larvae:

7. Host or prey:



Note: spiders are measured by body size only, legs are not included. Measure from the front of the cephalothorax to tip of the abdomen (spinnerets and palps are also not included).

Adding habitat to your information may help with ID. For example; Z. x-notata and Z. atrica occur in
urbanized habitats, the former on buildings and the latter on trees. Z. dispar is found in natural forest.

1. Eye arrangement will help you place a spider to family.

2. Body pattern can help place a spider to genus (and sometimes species).

3. Ventral View - Epigynum close-ups for adult female spiders:
(Having a plastic bag on hand is useful for this.)

4. Palp close-ups for adult male spiders:
(especially side views)

5. Side view is not always helpful, but can be useful when IDing
Tetragnatha, Sheetweb & Dwarf Spiders, Pimoidae, and perhaps others I will add as I remember/learn them



1. Dorsal View:


(Centipedes can be separated to order by counting the pairs of legs on adults.)

1. Dorsal view:

2. Close-up of antennae:


(Millipedes can be separated to order by counting the body rings.)

1. Dorsal or side view:
(You should be able to count body rings and see markings.)

2. Ventral view for sex:
(A plastic bag would be helpful here as well.)
(The 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th & 10th, or anterior ring on millipedes are often modified as gonopods.)

Super article!
I wish I had come across this years ago when I first started submitting images. Of course, often I feel lucky to capture a clear image!
I wonder if this whole section could be advertised more? Maybe some how putting a link on the ID Request tab? Or create a section for new comers.
I have been a fan of your site for years, yet this morning I came across this whole section of articles and other ID resources.
Thanks again for having this site available for the citizen scientists out there.

Broken link
Order Coleoptera, first line, "PDF article" this link doesn'twork:

Not sure if this is the same article...
...but, if not, it's a good replacement article which also offers in-depth advice on beetle photography.]

Thank you.

Great article
This is very helpful!

This is excellent.
This is excellent. Can the order Trichoptera - Caddisflies be added in the future. I do not know what is needed to get an identification. Thanks for your hard work.

Yes that is possible
It might be a while though before I have time to work on it.

Broken link...
Hi, Lynette. I just wanted to give you a heads up that the PDF for the in-depth article on beetle photography that you link to under the Coleoptera heading is no longer functional. (Also, the word "photography" is misspelled.) :-)

Thanks Harsi.

Hi Lynnette,
Regarding your question under the tree cricket photos....

Yes, it would be helpful to have a top view photo of the whole TC. The width of the wings helps distinguish Broad-winged TC. And the pronotum can be helpful in distinguishing Black-horned vs. Prairie; as well as Snowy vs. Narrow-winged.

Hi Lynette,
Will you be adding that a top view photo of the whole tree cricket is helpful in distinguishing some species...?

Tree Crickets are
under the general heading of katydids & crickets, which start with the full dorsal and side views needed. Maybe it's not clear enough?

...I noticed today that this question was still under the tree cricket close-up photos of the antennae -- 'I'm not sure whether a thorax view is helpful?'

Oh yes,
I meant the ventral view of the thorax on that comment. Is the ventral view on the thorax helpful in tree crickets?

...just a dorsal view -- and actually of the pronotum, to see if red extends to the pronotum or if it is only on the head. This helps distinguish Snowy from Narrow-winged if a photo of the antennal markings is not available.

I've deleted the comment now. Thanks for the info.

Some tips from 2007
Maybe some of these tips can be used here, too.

I think I have those now.

Suggestion: Add Anchors
The page is getting big enough to make navigation difficult. A way to help with that is have a clickable "table of contents" at the top of the page pointing to sections within the page.

First, go to every line you want to be referenced and add an anchor tag. Let's say you want a link that goes to the section on Lepidoptera.I'm guessing that first line looks like this:
You make up a name for your anchor (it can be arbitary like "A1", but it's easier to work with ones that mean something). Make sure you're not duplicating a name that already exists on the page. Let's call this one "LepsTest"

Then, you add an anchor tag using the new name:

It doesn't matter exactly where you put it in the line, because it's invisible in the final page- just remember to have it in the same line as the place you want people to click to:

Next, put a link to it in your table of contents. The link is the same as a link to the whole page, but add "#", followed by the name, to the end of the URL:

You can see an example in Chris Wirth's article:
Potentially Dangerous Arachnids and Insects

Not exactly up to date...
Lowercase letters make this currently valid.
<a name="anchor">
Also, the tag must be closed.
<a name="anchor"></a>
Anything inside the anchor will hover red on BugGuide, due to its CSS styles.

Also, another note.
Wouldn't it just be easier to use one tag instead of two?
What you typed:
<a name="LepsTest">[b][url=]ORDER LEPIDOPTERA - BUTTERFLIES AND MOTHS[/url][/b]</a>

You could just type this:
<a name="LepsTest" href="">[b]ORDER LEPIDOPTERA - BUTTERFLIES AND MOTHS[/b]</a>

Just a note about using "anchors"...
If you are using style sheets (CSS) or adding "style" code to the "head" section of your web page any attributes you give to the <a> tag will also be given to any anchor tag you place on your page.

If you had something like this ( A:hover {COLOR: #804c4c; BACKGROUND-COLOR: #f0efe3} ) in your "style" code then anything you add the "anchor" tag to will have the colors changed when someone places their cursor over that section.

Defining a "class" for your regular links, such as ( {COLOR: #804c4c; BACKGROUND-COLOR: #f0efe3} ) in your "style" code and using <a class="link" href="url here"> in your html, should allow you to style your regular links and not have it affect your anchor tags.

I found out about this the hard way and had to "fix" a bunch of my website pages.

put nothing in the <a> tag. Then nothing is affected by CSS.

Thank you very much
I only did one thing differently from your very good directions. Instead of:
I left out the and just used

How do you post those directions without actually creating the link?

Looks like an improvement
One suggestion: if you take out the empty lines in the table of contents, it will make it easier to use without scrolling up and down so much.

As for how I showed the code without creating links: I used HTML entities. They're HTML's way of doing special characters. These consist of a code name for the character with an ampersand in front (&) and a semicolon following (;). A special type of entity has the pound sign (#) followed by the decimal character code for the character instead of the regular code name.

Some codes I use:

&nbsp;   Non-breaking space( )
&amp;   Ampersand (&)
&lt;   Less than (<)
&#91;   Left bracket ([)
&quot;   Double quote(")
&bull;   Bullet (•)
&deg;   Degree sign (°)
&middot;   Middle dot(·)
&laquo;   Left angle-quote(«)
&raquo;   Right angle-quote(»)
&rarr;   Rightwards arrow(→)
&rArr;   Rightwards double arrow(⇒)
&loz;   Lozenge(◊)
&hearts;   Hearts, as in playing cards,(♥)

There are also entities for all the accented characters used by western European languages:
&eacute;   (é)
&acirc;   (â)
&aring;   (å)

And for the entire Greek Alphabet:
&alpha;   (α)
&beta;   (β)
&gamma;   (γ)
&omega;   (ω)

I just figured out you need semicolons. took me long enough.

&# 91 with no space between w
&# 91 with no space between will give you the open bracket - [
&# 91B]Bold[/b] (without the space will look like...

& lt with no space will give you the opening <
& lt a href> (without the space will look like...
<a href>

I hope that is what you were asking and I hope this answers that question :)

Learn, learn, learn. . . I knew about anchors but couldn't remember how to do it. I can use it for some overviews and articles. I hope that I can follow the instructions and that I can find them again next time that I need them. Thanks.

Good work!
I would mention that for herbivores, such as caterpillars, sawflies, aphids, gall insects, etc. information on the food plant can be very useful, including an image if necessary.

I agree
and I'm sure this shows my horticultural bias, but I would prefer to see two host plant shots in many cases - the usual close-up of leaves/flowers and a shot of the entire plant. Sometimes I can't even tell woody from herbaceous plants in the close-ups.

Great work, Lynette!

There are limits, of course....
It might be helpful to note that there are limits to the ability to identify insects from images alone, or without close-ups. Fly (Diptera) identification, for example, often hinges on the arrangement of the hair-like setae and bristles on the head and thorax. Many flies are already so small as to practically elude crisp imagery as it is! Other insects just simply can't be ID'd from images alone: most ichneumon wasps, for example. This is not to discourage anyone from trying, but just to provide perspective.

That's what I had started to say in my previous comment, but then deleted... I think we should add info to guide pages, at family level for instance, indicating when it's simply not possible to get any further from a photo alone, even with the excellent closeups we regularly get from some contributors. My impression is that some agromyzid flies, for instance, can only be identified to species by dissecting a male and examining the genitalia. V belov forwarded me a discouraging correspondence he had with an aphid specialist, the upshot being that there's basically no hope, or at least that no credible expert would ever offer an ID based on a photo alone. Maybe you can just note that there are limits, as Eric suggests, and suggest that people check guide pages for notes on the limits of photography for getting IDs of particular groups.

I'm thinking maybe that information more specific than order/suborder (e.g. Carabidae) should go on the guide pages for those taxa? Otherwise this could get out of hand fast.

The host plant views are a great addition! Maybe you could make a section for galls in general, since people don't necessarily know what order of insect made the gall when they take the picture. And/or just a general note at the top that host plant info is very useful for all herbivorous insects--caterpillars, sawfly larvae, adult & larval chrysomelids, etc.

My 2 cents
The BugGuide version of the Serenity Prayer: to have the information to ID what can be IDed, the patience to accept what can't be IDed, and the expert advice to know which is which.

In any group- no matter how impossible to ID- there are almost always a few exceptions that are distinctive. With aphids, for instance, a bright yellow/orange one on a milkweed, oleander or other Apocynaceae plant is guaranteed to be Aphis nerii. The key is to get experts to lay out the limits of identifiability within their specialties.

I would love to see an expert go through the aphids and say: "this is unidentifiable without dissection", "this would be [...] species if it's on this type of plant", etc.

It may not be as satisfying as having an ID on everything, but the goal is making BugGuide users more accurate in attempting their IDs- and false positives are anything but accurate.

Orange aphids
Since you bring up that example... Rumor has it that Aphis lutescens is also bright orange and found on milkweed. I did some Googling and this seemed to be the case, but it's hard to know who to trust.

I too would love to have an expert go through the aphid section. Unfortunately, here is the response that v belov got from an aphid specialist he contacted [Edit: I see I basically imparted this information already. I'm a little out of it at the moment. Sorry for the redundancy]:

Regarding your request for identification of aphids through photos.
> Regrettably, it is the taxonomic difficulty of aphids that makes their identification through photos very problematic.
> As a consequence, I long ago developed and use a policy that I have to see actual specimens, and have accurate data, including host, before commenting on aphid identification at any level beyond family.
> Even if those conditions have been met, the myriad of morphs and seasonal variance often preclude the assignment of a meaningful identification in this group.
> Nymphs cannot be reliably identified as such, or to species or often group, in almost all instances, and telling an nymph usually involves examination of the venter of the abdomen.
> Because alates alight on everything, even accurate species-specific host information associated with them is usually problematic unless they have been reared on the plant; this has often caused erroneous host associations in the literature.
> Most other experienced aphid taxonomists seem to abide by this no-photo-identification requirement, having learned through their experience, which is why few make photo identifications.
> In my experience, those that will do photo identifications of aphids are either very new to the group, or ultimately prove unreliable as to consistent accuracy.
> Unfortunately, it is the nature of the beast, both experienced aphid taxonomist and aphid.

As a beginner with a new passion
As a beginner with a new passion, It might be nice, if photographs are available, to include images of microscopic features that are needed to identify something, such as aphids. I have recently bought a microscope for the purpose of identifying mushrooms and photographing mushroom spores. Even though it is currently beyond my level, I would and I'm sure others with the capabilities might be interested to know or see what features would need to be photographed for a positive id. I'd be interested to know how I can apply my microscope with photographic capabilities to any one of the branches of the insect world and seeing a photo of the needed features would be extremely helpful. Not sure if it would go beyond the perimeter of bugguide but I dream big. I love bugguide. I am learning something new every single day.

Many sources, such as this one consider Aphis lutescens to be a synonym for Aphis nerii

Well how 'bout that.
Apparently I hadn't bothered to check Nomina Nearctica, which only lists the latter. Very good.

I've added the synonym to the guide page to avoid future confusion.

very nice
great job, Lynette!

Great work needs new title:-)
This is outstanding, Lynette, but when I first read the title on the Forum page I thought it was going to be a list of images already in the guide that needed ID to the Order level. LOL! Could you maybe title it something like this: "Critical images needed to make IDs." The "order" part becomes self-explanatory when you open the article. Keep up the great work:-)

good idea
title changed

Thank you!
Thank you!

This is great!
(I had a suggestion, but I decided it wasn't really helpful for what you're doing here, so never mind.)

Hip, Hip, Hooray!
I know this is still a work in progress, but it pleases me to no end to see you drafting this article! So many of us who are new to BugGuide, and to insects in general, are extremely eager to take good photos and to get positive IDs but simply don't know what to pay attention to yet. I'm sure the finished draft of this will be greatly appreciated by a multitude of users for years to come. Thanks, Lynette!

In progress
this may take awhile. Any suggestions, tips, etc. along the way are welcome.

If you can add a statement about needing to see...
...the base of the antennae from a frontal view in tree crickets, that would be great. See here for examples:


Best chances for identifying carabids:
I find myself repeating the following recommendations to new BugGuiders who submit carabid (ground beetle) images for identification. The single most important photo for identifying a carabid is to submit a well-focused exactly perpendicular view of entire dorsal body. Side shots of carabids are less useful; often confusing the identification. Second most important is a perpendicular close-up of the entire dorsal pronotum. Third importance is a perpendicular view of the entire ventral body. Thanks for inserting this information somewhere under Coleoptera.
Lynette, your page on photographic recommendations I feel is important enough to be incorporated in the "Help" section or a newly created "Improve ID" section at top of Home page of forthcoming version 2.0 of BugGuide. Nice work!

Lynette, could you please modify view #3 statement under Carabidae to read as below. Thanks.

3. Ventral view: a perpendicular view of the entire ventral body is third in importance and not necessary for identification in most cases.

Thanks for the help.

Earwigs- characteristics in keys
Abdominal segments (forceps included)- adult females have 8, adult males have 10

Wings- Whether there are any, their shape, and color patterns are all useful in taking ID to family, and sometimes genus.

Legs- color (light or dark), and whether there's any rings around them

*All of these are covered with a good overall dorsal body shot. It also helps if you can see whether the body surface is smooth or has bristles/hairs.

Number of segments
Relative size of first several segments from the base to each other
If there are white segments near the end, how many are white, and how many segments are between them and the tip.

*An image with all the the segments at least moderately in focus should work, or at least one with the tip end and one with the base

Forficulidae have 2nd tarsal segment wider than, and extending under, the 1st tarsal segment.
Chelisocidae have 2nd tarsal segment extending under the 1st, but the same width and having a brush of dark hairs underneath.
Pyagropsis buskii in the Pygidicranidae has a pad between the toes called an arolium.

*A closeup of the feet from the side can be very helpful in nailing down the family.

Forceps- curvature of the whole (whether symmetrical or different on one side), teeth and other structures on the inside surface- both at the base and on the curved part.

*A view from above or below (preferably with the forceps closed) is very useful, especially with the males. This can be part of the overall dorsal view.

Size also matters- length is from front of head to tip of abdomen (excluding the forceps)

Great list, thanks!

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