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HEMIPTERA - or the TRUE BUGS An excerpt from

THE HONG KONG BOOK OF BUGS (TO ORDER YOUR COPY GO TO True bugs are recognisable by their large antennae, soft bodies, piercing mouthparts and hemelytra—their modified, hardened forewing with a leathery base and a membranous tip - like this one below.

Here you can see the piercing/sucking mouthpart (on the right, like a straw) of a cicada.

Please note, some experts pointed out that such a definition is a bit simplistic and "loose", so it is only a rough guide. Hemiptera actually means "half wing” in Latin. They have a shield-like, or triangular, plate on the thorax and often can be recognised by an X-shaped design on the back, which is formed by the wings at rest. The defining feature of hemipterans is their “beak". All of them have modified piercing-sucking mouthparts and, in particular, the sharp mouthparts that pierce their food, plant or other animal. Interestingly, they can be either predacious (i.e. living by preying on other animals), or bloodsucking, or herbivorous (feeds on plants).

Most people are familiar with insects chewing mouthparts—this is what caterpillars, beetles, and grasshoppers use to grind their food up before swallowing it as the first step in digestion. But not true bugs. Oh, no. Their special mouthpiece takes the form of a long rostrum (like a straw) made up of slender stylets sheathed by the labium (the fused mouthpart which forms the floor of the mouth of an insect). But now the horror for their living prey. The stylet is capable of piercing tissues and sucking liquids, while the labium supports it. The stylet contains a channel for the outward movement of saliva, and another for the inward movement of liquid food. With me so far? Now for the terrifying bit. Before they "eat", their salivary pump drives saliva into the prey; and then a cibarial pump (a structure associated with a complex of muscles located in the head of the insect, controlling the ingestion and transfer of blood from its prey) extracts liquid from the prey. So what happens is that predatory hemipterans inject enzymes to begin digestion extra-orally (before the food is taken into the body) and the prey is dissolved from the inside. The gooey mush is then sucked into the true bug through the rostrum. Niiiiiiice. Oh, and I often find them doing this while mating, like the ones below (though probably safer for the smaller male that way).

I suppose a bit like having a blood and guts milkshake mid coitus—an acquired taste and something that even the Marquis de Sade would balk at, let alone Christian Grey. Go ask your parents who they are. More TRUE BUGS

Whilst most agree a heteropteran is any member of the insect order Heteroptera (which comprises the so-called true bugs), there is raging debate amongst irate taxonomists and scientists arguing about suborders and classification. To keep it simple, we agree with the entomologists who consider all insects with piercing-sucking mouthparts as members of a single order; the Hemiptera (sometimes called Rhyngota or Rhynchota). Within this order, we concur with two suborders, Homoptera and Heteroptera, separated traditionally by texture and resting position of the forewings, and by the apparent origin of the beak. If you are interested in joining the classification debate, knock yourself out—go online and prepare for abuse.

The lovely lantern bug is also a TRUE BUG. These beautiful, intricate bugs are often found on tree trunks - particularly lychee and longan trees - around Hong Kong.


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