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Posted on Mon, Sep 9, 2013 : 5:56 a.m.

No bugs about it: New website helps users identify Michigan insects

By Andrea Signor

For Dr. Leslie Mertz, the crawlers and flyers of the insect world are a source of fascination.

"My favorite insect is whichever one I looked at last," she said, chuckling.

To share her passion for nature's smaller creatures, Mertz, a lecturer in the biology department at Eastern Michigan University, helped launch an interactive website,, to help Michiganders identify the orders and suborders of insects in the state.


A slender clearwing moth pauses near a flower in Benzie County, Mich., June 12, 2012.

"This website allows users to rekindle their love of insects," said Mertz.

As an easy-to-use guide to identifying the creepy-crawlies, the site prompts users to answer two-choice questions to help narrow down the type of creature they've discovered.

"Most available insect keys are either too simple or too complex," Mertz said. "This bridges that gap. ... It's something anybody can use without being watered down."

The website includes diagrams and photographs along with scientific terms to help users hone their search and learn more about the world of entomology. Users may also upload their own photographs of their discoveries.

Mertz hopes the guide will become a resource for parents and teachers.

"Kids inherently love insects ... This site helps parents build on that intense curiosity," she said. "As we head back to school I think this will help teachers and students make the transition from summer break to the classroom."

Madison Preparatory High School teacher Ivanna Yavorenko said she plans to incorporate the new site into her curriculum.

"This will be perfect for (the students)," said Yavorenko, a biology teacher for grades 9-12. "It introduces them to different ecosystems. It's useful and it's free."

Yavorenko said she intends to integrate the site into the ecology and evolution units of her biology courses, getting students outside and exploring the world around them.

"I think they'll enjoy it," she said.

The site isn't limited to K-12 students. Mertz has her students conduct fieldwork and identify their finds.

"At first, many of them are too cool for it, but give a 22-year-old a net to catch a dragonfly and it's amazing to see that switch back to being a kid," she said.


A click beetle.

EMU graduate Kelly McKinne said he enjoyed Mertz's courses and respects the work she's doing to build a comprehensive, user-friendly guide.

"(The website) is one of the most simple ways to identify an insect and it's also one of the most accurate," said McKinne, now a public administration graduate student at Kent State University in Ohio. "(Mertz is) making a pool for students and educators to build on."

McKinne said he has contributed to the website by providing photographs of his finds. For him, the interactive component of the site is especially unique and important.

"One of the best ways to identify a species is to sketch it in order to record it and compare it to a field guide," he said, adding that photographs taken by amateur biologists take the place of sketches and the "Know Your Insects" guide helps the budding scientists make their identification.

"People really get excited," he said. "They are becoming a part of this website."

Mertz said she hopes "Know Your Insects" continues to grow with more user participation and she plans to continue building on the already extensive database.

She also hopes the site helps users recapture their youth.

"Most people have little interest in insects other than to swat them, but give them a half hour or an hour inspecting insects and they're right back to where they were when they were 6 years old," she said. "I hope this site helps folks rediscover their love of insects and nature and their love of the outdoors."



Tue, Sep 10, 2013 : 3:15 p.m.

I just browsed it and believe it has some problems for average users like myself. First, it doesn't have a search function. So, if one wants to look at a cockroach, one has to go through the process of answering a number of questions or going through the orders of insects, which while (perhaps) a learning process (but will probably be forgotten once one leaves the site due to the lengthy and unusual names for the orders), is unnecessarily tedious. If one chooses to go through the questions, they will be confronted with questions such as: "Does your insect have a long, shield-like pronotum that extends back over the abdomen, and hind legs that are much longer that its other legs? " To their credit, they do show you what a pronotum is. Note that the insect would have to be dead for one to study it's physical characteristics to this degree or one would have to have a near photogenic memory. Personally, I don't like killing things just because I'm curious. If you don't know if the back legs are longer or if it has a shield that extends over it's hind legs, you're stuck. The guide won't take you any further. It would be nice if one could work backwards. E.g., look up the cockroach first and then work backwards as to its characteristics. While I find the guide interesting, I don't find it particularly practical for an individual who simply wants to know what kind of bug it is that they saw.


Mon, Sep 9, 2013 : 1:15 p.m.

Cool idea...we have some freakish bugs around here sometimes and I'm always trying to figure out what they are. It would be nice if they would add spider identification as well.

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, Sep 9, 2013 : 1:03 p.m.

Burn them! Burn them with fire!


Tue, Sep 10, 2013 : 2:04 a.m.

Whomever voted Nicholas down not only has no sense of humor, but also has not had to cohabitate with Ann Arbor's house centipedes, wolf spiders, american cockroaches, nor cicada killers *shivers*

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, Sep 9, 2013 : 11:58 p.m.

Centipedes? They must be nuked from orbit. Or the next best thing, which is an aerosol can and a lighter. Trouble is, you don't dare take your eyes off them to get a weapon.


Mon, Sep 9, 2013 : 7:45 p.m.

I used to be terribly afraid of insects and spider (>4 legs was generally on my terror list). But I started learning more about them, and taking pictures of them. I started to understand them, and fear them so much less. I certainly respect them a whole lot more, and find them fascinating. That being said, I can't get used to things that skitter at me unexpectedly - my lizard brain still makes me scream a little bit. But I don't wish death upon them anymore. (Note: House Centipedes are still on my @#$%list - they're beneficial, I know this logically. But seeing them skitter across the living room floor still makes me jump high)


Mon, Sep 9, 2013 : 12:42 p.m.

Also called the hummingbird moth which, in my opinion, is a much more fun way to remember it - especially when working with children. Hemaris thysbe, commonly known as the Hummingbird Clearwing, is a moth of the Sphingidae family.

Jaime Magiera

Mon, Sep 9, 2013 : 12:38 p.m.

This is so cool! Great idea. (I'm an amateur lepidopterist)


Mon, Sep 9, 2013 : 12:36 p.m.

This is cool and I will be checking it out!! As an amateur photographer and a daily outside walker, I often encounter all kinds of interesting "creatures". As long as they don't decide to make my home their home, I'm happy to learn about them and watch them go about their business!!

Jaime Magiera

Tue, Sep 10, 2013 : 5:44 a.m.

dexterreader: cool. Post some stuff. I do insect and nature photos along the same lines - and astrophotography through a telescope. I should should share some stuff with a2news as well.


Mon, Sep 9, 2013 : 9:04 p.m.

Thanks Kyle!! I will make a note of the upload address!! I am always interested in sharing my photos with anyone who's interested in viewing them.

Kyle Mattson

Mon, Sep 9, 2013 : 3:44 p.m.

Just a reminder to our local amateur photogs, we love seeing your photos and frequently feature them on our social media channels. We'll also be looking at making your photos a more regular feature on and in The Ann Arbor News print edition. To share your shots use the hashtag #a2photos on Instagram or Twitter or upload them here:


Mon, Sep 9, 2013 : 1:04 p.m.

Jaime .... I have a few posted on my personal Facebook page. My photography interest is primarily in nature photos, i.e. wildflowers, fall colors, lakes, etc. -- anything to do with nature. My "insect collection" is limited to things one might see while out walking "in the country" -- walking sticks, caterpillars, flying insects that would be around flowers, etc.

Jaime Magiera

Mon, Sep 9, 2013 : 12:39 p.m.

Do you have any of your photos posted anywhere?


Mon, Sep 9, 2013 : 11:59 a.m.

Don't let the inane headline put you off; this website is worth a trip. Just clicking through the orders is a worthwhile learning experience.