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Arthropods...and More!

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Arthropods: Have jointed limbs and a body made up of segments (crabs, insects, and spiders).

Arachnids: A kind of animal that has eight legs and a body formed of two parts (Spiders).

Insects: A small animal that has six legs and a body formed of three segments (many have wings).

True Bugs: Any of a large group of insects that have four wings, suck liquid food (as plant juices or blood), and have young which resemble the adults but lack wings.

Moth: An insect that usually flies at night and has mostly feathery antennae and stouter body, duller coloring, and smaller wings then their related butterflies.

Butterfly: An insect that has a slender body and large colored wings covered with tiny overlapping scales and that flies mostly in the daytime.

Pollinators: An agent (such as an insect) that pollinates flowers.

Worms: Worms (earthworms, red wigglers, etc.) are not arthropods or insects at all, but belong to the phyla annelids. They have elongated bodies without a backbone and their bodies have segments. Because they do not have limbs, they cannot be classified as arthropods.

*Definitions from: Merriam-Webster. 

ID Characteristics
Funky Facts!
References/More Information 

Black Widow (Latrodectus hesperus):

The female black widow's body is shiny black with a bulbous abdomen and a red hourglass on the underside of it’s abdomen. They grow to about 1.5 in. The males are half the size of females, are brown or gray, and have a small red spot on their abdomen instead of an hourglass. Webs look erratic and are usually found in dark, secluded places close to the ground such as in log stacks or in drain pipes. 

  • Females weigh 30 times more than their male counterparts. That means if a male were to weigh 200 lbs, the female would weigh a whopping 6,000 lbs!

  • Black widow webs are sticky in order to trap other insect prey in their webs. Black widows produce an oil on their legs which prevent them from getting stuck in their own webs.

  • Black widows gained their name for the female’s occasional habit of eating the males post-mating.

  • Black widows inject their prey with digestive enzymes that liquefy the prey and allow them to drink up their dinner.

National Geographic: Black Widows.





To Bee or Not to Bee?

Bees, wasps, hornets, flies, what are the differences between these flying insects and how can you tell them apart? 

Flies: Some flies actually visit flowers and mimic bees and wasps in appearance for protection from predators! Flies can be distinguished however, as their eyes are usually larger and meet at the top of their head, they have only one pair of wings, and sucking mouth parts. 

Wasp: Wasps have a distinctive “wasp waist” that is very narrow, much less fuzzy than bees with only single hairs, long antennae, chewing mouthparts, two wings, and are often more slim and streamlined looking than bees. Wasps can be more aggressive than bees, who are just focused on getting pollen and nectar from flowers, but they aren’t all bad: 


  • Wasps are carnivorous and lay their eggs inside of their prey - farmers actually use this to their advantage as a natural form of pest control for their crops resulting in less pesticide use! 

  • Wasps invented paper! Wasps combined wood fibers and their spit to make paper nests. It is thought that humans copied wasps to make the first paper scrolls.  


Hornets: Hornets are a type of wasp and can be distinguished by their coloration as more brown, reddish-yellow with slightly more robust bodies. Hornets stings are more painful than wasps, but they tend to be less aggressive. 

Bees: Bees have more hairs that are branched (plumos), are generally rounder with black and yellow coloration. Bees can only sting humans once, as their stingers get stuck in our skin whereas wasps and hornets can sting multiple times without dying, and flies to not have any stingers at all.     

Aphids (Aphidoidea):

There are over 10,000 species of aphids that range in color from red, black, white, and green. Some aphids are smooth and some are woolly. Depending on their life cycle, they could have wings or be wingless.​

  • Aphids are sometimes referred to as “ant cows” since ants will herd and protect aphids from predators like ladybugs in exchange for their honeydew excretion which they “milk” from the aphids.

  • During the summer months, when aphids are born they already contain the following (female) generations within them like stacked Russian dolls that they can give birth to via parthenogenesis (without sexual reproduction) and through live birth as opposed to laying eggs like most insects.

  • Aphids will only produce males and reproduce sexually in late summer to vary the gene pool which is when they will lay eggs instead of live birth. 

  • Many generations of aphids are born and when the numbers get too high, aphids will produce offspring that have wings so that they can spread their numbers to other plants where it is less crowded.

  • Aphids suck liquid and nutrients from plant leaves and they can cause the spread of diseases, produce galls, and cause lots of problems for plants.

“Virgin Birth” David Attenborough's Natural Curiosities , BBC Earth.


Encyclopædia Britannica. “Aphid.

Water Penny Beetle (Psephenidae):

Mostly found clinging to the undersides of rocks, these creatures are round, flat and brown that resemble pennies as larvae. They have segmented bodies and legs on their underside. ​Small, brown beetle when adult. 

  • This beetle is so called a “water penny” since the larvae of this beetle looks like a penny in the water as opposed to most beetles that have grub-like larvae. 

  • While they don’t live long as adult beetles, water pennies can live up to a year as a larvae. 

  • Using their legs, Water Pennies scrape off algae from rocks as a source of food. 

  • Water Penny Beetles are a sign of a healthy river as they cannot live with high amounts of pollution, sediment, fungi, or algae growth.  

MDC Discover Nature: “Water Penny Beetle Larvae.” 



A monarch’s wingspan can reach 5 inches in length although most reach 4 inches. Their wing color is a distinctive orange and black with white marking on the trim of the wings.

  • The color of the monarch butterfly warns predators such as birds to back off and find food elsewhere as they are slightly toxic to predators. 

  • Monarchs get this toxicity from eating the milkweed plant in its caterpillar stage which is the only plant that monarch eggs will be laid on and the only food source for these caterpillars. 

  • Monarchs are widely known for their massive migration that can take place over 2,000 miles from as far north as Canada to as far south as Mexico! 

  • Scientists are still trying to figure out how monarchs intuitively know where to go to make it back to the exact same spots each year, especially since multiple monarch generations are needed to complete the full migration. 

  • Monarch butterflies travel from summer breeding grounds to winter hibernation spots. 

  • Monarch have around 3-4 generations during the summer that simply breed and live in their summer location, but the last generation is physically and behaviorally different from the previous generations allowing this last generation to make the longer migration south for the winter. This last generation also lives the longest ensuring that they can make the journey and allow for future generations.  

Monarch numbers are reducing drastically from loss of habitat and loss of milkweed needed for their eggs/caterpillars to feed on.

How you can help! Plant native milkweed in your yard. Put out a pollinator water station in your yard. Help get our parks pesticide free. Encourage the planting of milkweed at our parks. Advocate for the preservation of monarch habitat. 

Nevada Bugs and Butterflies.

National Geographic Kids: Monarch Butterflies.

“Pollinator Friendly Gardening” by Rhonda Fleming Hayes.

Pollinator Power!

  • Do you like food? Then you should thank pollinators as about one-third of every bite of food you consume would not be on your plate without pollinators. Pollinators are responsible for the production of over 1,200 food crops alone (not counting all the other plants that need pollinators for reproduction such as flowers).

  • Over 75% and possibly up to 95% of plants need animals to be pollinated and reproduce!  

  • Pollinators add to our economy from produce grown, and honey sold.

  • Pollinators come in different forms such as bees, butterflies, birds, and bats.

More Information:

Pollinator Partnership.

US Fish and Wildlife Service: Pollinators.

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus):

Pandora Moth (Coloradia pandora):

The Pandora Moth has brown/gray main wings that are around 7-11 cm in length and bottom wings that are greyish pink. Eggs are bluish green/gray and are laid in globular clusters from 2-50 eggs. Larvae are yellow/green to brown and are around 6-8cm. 

  • Pandora Moths have a two year life cycle with moths emerging in late July and eggs being laid within a few days of hatching. 

  • Eggs develop for around 40 days and larvae are cold hardy eating needles during the daytime in the winter months. 

  • Larvae crawl down trees in late June where they pupate underground for around 12-13 months.

  • Larvae can cause extreme defoliation in the areas they populate.

  • Larvae were harvested and eaten as a protein source by the Paiute of the Owens Valley. 

  • Trenches around the Ponderosa tree were dug to catch the larvae for harvest. 

US Forest Service: Pandora Moth. 

“Harvesting Pandora Moth Larvae with the Owens Valley Paiute” by Catherine S. Fowler and Nancy Peterson Walter. Online here.


Echo Azure (Celastrina echo):

The echo azure is a butterfly colored blue-lavender with a light-colored border on the upper side of its wings, and chalky colored with dark speckles on the underside. It is a fairly small butterfly, just 2-3 inches in wingspan. It can be found in chaparral, forest, and suburban neighborhoods.

  • Echo azures lay their eggs on flower buds. 

  • Sometimes, they will pupate (when the caterpillar morphs into a chrysalis) in an ant nest.

  • They may exhibit a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with ants: the caterpillars excrete a sugary substance from their “honey gland”, which the ants eat. Additionally, when the caterpillar feels threatened, it can release a chemical similar to an ant pheromone, to which the ants respond with aggression towards a potential predator, thereby protecting the caterpillar.

Butterflies and Moths of North America: Echo Azure 

Idaho State University Digital Atlas: Celastrina Ladon


Common Snakefly (Agulla adnixa):

Called a snakefly due to its long body, this flying insect has a remarkably long head and prothorax (where the first legs attach). Attached at the main thorax, their relatively long wings are mostly transparent, with thin black veins.

  • These friendly insects may eat your pests! Adults will eat other kinds of insects, including aphids, and even the larvae will eat garden pests like grubs.

  • They are commonly found cleaning their antennae and legs.

  • The larvae can walk forwards and backwards.

Insect Identification: Snakefly 

Encyclopedia Britannica: Snakefly 

Bug Guide: Order Raphidioptera - Snakeflies

Ladybug (Coccinellidae):

Small beetles ranging from .03 to .71 inches, colored yellow, orange, or red with small black dots on their wing covers. Depending on their species they can have either stripes, spots or no markings at all.

  • It is a myth that the number of spots indicate the insects age, rather the spots are determined by the species genetics. 

  • Ladybugs can play dead and secrete a foul tasting liquid from their joints to prevent being eaten by predators. 

  • Considered helpful garden insects because many species prey on agricultural pests such as aphids. Adolescent ladybugs eat the most aphids so keep them around!

  • Scientists are studying the delicate ladybug’s wings for potential advancement in engineering. See video here to see the folding of their wings up close! 

  • The name ladybug, or ladybirds as they are referred to in Britain, has been linked to the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. There are many different versions of why ladybugs were named after Mary, including the red color association, seven spotted varieties linked to the seven sorrows of Mary, and even a story about medieval farmers praying to Mary to save their crops from a pest infestation. The next morning the farmers found their fields covered in ladybugs, so the beetle was named in honor of Mother Mary.

National Geographic: Ladybugs

National Geographic: First-Ever Look at the Intricate Way Ladybugs Fold Their Wings Video

Merriam-Webster: A ‘Ladybug’s’ Spots

Today I Found Out” The Fascinating Reason Why Ladybugs are Called That” 

Wikipedia: Coccinellidae



Pill Bugs (Armadillidiidae vulgare):

Wingless, with oval or slightly elongated bodies about ½ inch long. Pill bugs have armor-like shells, and they can roll up into a small ball for protection.

  • Pill bugs, also known as roly polies, are actually crustaceans and not insects at all. They evolved from the sea and are more closely related to shrimp than to beetles! 

  • Also known as “wood shrimp” because their taste when cooked is similar to shellfish. 

  • Pill bugs use gills to breath, which need to be kept moist. This is why you will only find pill bugs where there is potential moisture, like the damp soil under rocks, or wet rotting wood. 

  • Pill bug mothers carry their eggs in a pouch. Pill bugs can have up to 50 eggs in one pouch.

PBS: Roly Polies Came From the Sea to Conquer the Earth | Deep Look Video 

Pest World for Kids: Pill Bugs

Sciencing: Roly-Poly Bug Facts

Wikipedia: Armadillidiidae


Yay Worms! The Superheroes of the Soil!

Worms are a sign of healthy soil. They are important for plants, soil-living macroinvertebrates, and are a source of food for animals such as birds. 

  • They aerate, or bring oxygen into the soil giving plant roots access to oxygen and easier pathways through the soil. 

  • Worms decompose waste and make nutrients more available to plants through chemical processes in their digestive tract which make worm castings (worm poop) nutritious food for plants. 

  • You can buy worm castings in garden centers which are often referred to as “gold” since worm poop is so nutrient dense for plants. 

  • They help improve soil structure which makes soil more permeable to water allowing water to soak easier and quicker into the ground instead of causing the water to rush over the surface creating flood-like conditions. 

  • They help moderate pH in the soil as worm poop has around a neutral pH of 7. 

! Worms are in decline in some areas from overuse of tilling the soil, pollutants infiltrating the soil, and overuse of pesticides. 

* How you can help! Start a worm bin for your compost waste. Refrain from tilling the soil. Be cautions with pesticides. Help advocate for parks to be pesticide free.

More Information:
“The Worm Book” by Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor. 
The Soil Food Web Dr. Elaine Ingham.


local resources

Check out these organizations to learn more about arthropods in our area!
Below are a few websites to help you learn even more!
  • Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation Facebook
  • Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation Twitter
  • Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation Instagram
  • Truckee Meadows Parks FoundationLinkedIn
  • Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation Youtube

Protecting & enhancing our community through public engagement, education, and the sustainability of our parks, open spaces, and trails.


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