Use the backyard bugs guide to help identify insects in your neighbourhood

You will need

  • Backyard bugs guide (download below)
  • your backyard/garden

What to do

Buzzing around your head, crawling up your leg - bugs are everywhere! You can find them in caves, up trees and underground. There are lots of different bugs waiting to be found.

Dung beetles help to control problem fly populations

Find out about some of these amazing creatures that live in our beds, fly around our heads and get up our noses. Use the Backyard Bugs guide to help you identify them and keep a record of all the bugs you find.

  1. Print the backyard bugs guide [pdf · 1mb] in colour if possible.
  2. Explore your backyard or park looking for insects on trees, walking across the ground, under leaves.
  3. Use the backyard bug guide to help identify the insect you have found and find out more including how helpful they can be.

What's happening

What is an insect?

Insects are anything with:

  • three separate body parts (the head, the middle part or the thorax, and the abdomen)
  • three pairs of legs growing out of the thorax
  • one or two sets of wings
  • antennae growing from their heads, which give them an extra way to touch and smell.

Insects do not have bones like we do, but grow a hard outer covering called an exoskeleton. Insects shed this hard covering at times and grow a new larger one. Sometimes they change suddenly, like caterpillars change to butterflies, and sometimes they change slowly over time, shedding their skin or moulting several times.

Beetles, beetles, beetles

Over one-quarter of all known species of animals are beetles.

Beetles pinned on a display board at the Australian National Insect Collection

Beetles are the biggest group of insects. There are an estimated eight million species! Beetles have been around for over 350 million years, and in that time, they've developed into some of the strongest, hardiest creatures on Earth.

Bugs and other oddities

Bugs, aphids, cicadas, leafhoppers and scale insects form one insect group. True bugs have mouths that can pierce and suck, and partly see-through wings.

Cicadas are usually heard rather than seen. Only males sing, to find a mate and to promote group harmony.

Leafhoppers and aphids have special relationships with ants. Aphids have been called 'ant cows' because they produce a sweet, sticky substance which the ants love. In return, the ants defend them, build shelters for them, and even carry them into their ant nests in bad weather.

Ants, bees and wasps

Most ants, bees and wasps are social - they live in groups and have different jobs like we do. Queens are responsible for finding new nest sites and producing eggs. Workers feed the young larvae, find food and maintain the nest. Soldiers defend the nest.

Although Australia has many species of native bees, the most common bees found in Australia are European honey bees. These long-tongued, furry insects make honey and spread pollen from plant to plant.

Ants are probably the most widespread insects. You can find them everywhere - even in houses. There could be 20 million ants in an area of the Australian bush as big as your school oval.

There are many native wasps that build their papery nests in trees and near houses, and most are harmless. Some introduced wasps, such as the European wasps, are more dangerous as they can attack several times and have a painful sting.

Butterflies and moths

You can tell a butterfly from a moth by their colouring, daily activities, antennae and how they hold their wings. Butterflies are brightly coloured and are active during the day. They have thin antennae with a clubbed tip, and hold their wings upright when they are resting.

Moths on the other hand are dull coloured, are active at night, have feathery antennae and spread their wings flat when they are at rest.

Creepy crawlies

Stick insects, mantids, grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches, termites and earwigs are part of the same insect group. Stick insects and mantids are thin, leggy insects that sway as they move, and use their slender bodies to camouflage themselves as sticks and leaves.

Grasshoppers and crickets usually stay close to the ground, and hide with their tricky colouring. Cockroaches and earwigs are more likely to squeeze their flattened bodies into cracks to hide from predators.

Termites are a lot like ants. They live in large nests and some termites build their nests in a wedge shape, with the longest edge facing north-south. This helps keep the nest cool during hot summers.

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