Insect, Spider and Kin Guide

This guide initially displays common arthropods (insects, arachnids, centipedes/millipedes and crustaceans) of all shapes. Use the selectors below to include rare species, select by shape, or search by name.

Arthropods include several different classes: hexapods, arachnids, myriapods and crustaceans. An arthropod is an invertebrate animal with bilateral symmetry, an external skeleton, a segmented body, and jointed appendages arranged in pairs. In order to grow, arthropods have to molt, shedding their whole exoskeleton all at once.

Insects, which comprise the vast majority of hexopods, all have three basic body parts. The head has compound eyes, mouthparts, and antennae that are used as sensory organs. The thorax or mid-section typically has two pairs of wings, if the insect can fly, and three pairs of legs for a total of six. The abdomen contains the insect’s digestive system, reproductive organs and sting organs, if present.

While spiders make up the largest group of arachnids, others in the class include scorpions, harvestmen, ticks, mites, pseudoscorpions and solifuges. Arachnids have eight legs plus two additional pairs of appendages: chelicerae used for feeding and defense and pedipalps which function as a sensory organ or in reproduction. Arachnids do not have antennae or wings and have two main body parts with the head and thorax fused into one. In addition, they have two different types of eyes for a total of eight.

Centipedes and millipedes make up most of the myriapod species. They are best known for their long, segmented bodies with multiple legs, though far fewer than their names imply. In addition, they have a single pair of antennae, simple eyes, and mouthparts on the underside of their bodies.

Most crustaceans are free-living aquatic animals but a few are terrestrial such as the woodlice. Their bodies are composed of segments that are grouped into three regions: head, thorax and abdomen. Each body segment may have one or more pairs of appendages which serve as antennae, mandibles, maxillae, legs and tail.

Over 80% of all living animal species are arthropods. They occupy all kinds of roles: predators, prey, parasites, hosts, herbivores and decomposers and live in all different types of habitats. Many are particularly adapted to life in a dry environments like that of Southwest. This guide focuses on many of the common arthropods in the greater Los Alamos area. However, please note that insects in the Lepidoptera order are discussed separately in the Butterfly and Moth Guide.

Insect, Spider and Kin References

A Checklist of Plant and Animal Species at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Surrounding Areas
A Guide to Arthropods Bandelier National Monument, National Park Service [PDF]
American Arachnological Society
Arnett, RH, Jr. 2000 American Insects: A Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico CRC Press
BugGuide.Net
Encyclopedia of Life
Field Guide to Insects and Diseases of Arizona and New Mexico Forests, US Forest Service [PDF]
Grasswitz, T.R. and Dressen, D.R. Pocket Guide to the Native Bees of New Mexico [PDF]
Grasswitz, T.R. and Dressen, D.R. Pocket Guide to the Beneficial Insects of New Mexico [PDF]
A Manual of Grasshoppers of New Mexico
iNaturalist
Insect Identification, New Mexico
Mackay, W. and Mackay, E., 2001 The Ants of New Mexico (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) [PDF]
Museum of Southwestern Biology
New Mexico Spiders
Odonata Central
One Hundred Common Insects of New Mexico, NM State University [PDF]
Sanborn, A.F. and Phillips, P.K., 2013 Biogeography of the Cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae) of North America, North of Mexico [PDF]
Symbiota Collections of Arthropods Network
Sutherland, C.A. Rove Beetles [PDF]
Symbiota Collections of Arthropods Network
Ticks and Tick Borne Diseases
Wildlife Notes – Centipedes and Millipedes [PDF]

Subject Area Experts (all guides)

Steve Cary (butterflies)
Beth Cortright (insects)
Terry Foxx (invasive plants)
Leslie Hansen (mammals)
Richard Hansen (fish, mammals)
Dorothy Hoard (butterflies, trees)
Chick Keller (flowers, herbarium)
Shari Kelley (geology)
Kirt Kempter (geology)
Garth Tietjen (reptiles)
David Yeamans (birds)

Web Development and Content Management

Pat Bacha
Jennifer Macke
Graham Mark
Akkana Peck

Contact

Please contact us for local nature questions and sightings. We welcome comments, corrections, and additions to our guides.

For more information about local nature, please visit our Nature Blog or subscribe to PEEC This Week.

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Showing 7 of 113 insects, spiders and kin.
Carpenter Ant

Photo: Dmitry Mozzherin

Carpenter Ant

(Camponotus spp., Formicidae family)

Order: Hymenoptera (Ants, Bees and Wasps)
Size: 0.3 - 1 in (8 - 25 mm)
Distinguishing Features: large, broad head with thin waist; highly variable in overall size

Status: native; common
Habitat: nests in logs and stumps under trees but can invade homes.

The genus Camponotus contains a very large number of species known collectively as Carpenter Ants. One of the most common US species associated with human habitation is the black carpenter ant (Camponotus pennsylvanicus). Though these ants chew out areas inside wood for their nests, they do not eat it. They usually feed on seeds but still can cause a lot of structural damage in a home. These ants do not sting.

Info   Photos   
Velvet Ant

Photo: Jennifer Macke

Velvet Ant, Cow Killer

(Dasymutilla spp., Mutillidae family)

Order: Hymenoptera (Ants, Bees and Wasps)
Size: 0.8 - 0.9 in (19 - 22 mm)
Distinguishing Features: ant-like with only a slight constriction between the the thorax and abdomen; head and thorax are red with black hair. Males have red on the abdomen; males are winged; females wingless

Status: native; uncommon
Habitat: arid and semiarid open lands

These hairy wasps move along the ground like a true ant. They can make a squeaking noise by rubbing their abdominal segments together. Males do not sting. However, females can deliver a very painful sting giving it the name of Cow Killer. Larvae are external parasites to various types of other Hymenotera like bees.

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Black Lawn Ant

Photo: Jennifer Macke

Black Lawn Ant

(Formica podzolica, Formicinae family)

Order: Hymenoptera (Ants, Bees and Wasps)
Size: 0.2 - 0.3 in (4 - 8 mm)
Distinguishing Features: abdomen is somewhat reflective, giving the illusion of a white band

Status: native; common
Habitat: yards and wooded areas

Often live under rocks in landscaped areas though may be found in coniferous forests where their mounds are covered by herbaceous plants. They feed on dead invertebrates and nectar. They are active in daytime but considered rather shy.

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Wood Ant

Photo: © Alex Wild

Wood Ant, Field Ant

(Formica spp., Formicidae family)

Order: Hymenoptera (Ants, Bees and Wasps)
Size: 0.1 - 0.5 in (3 - 13 mm)
Distinguishing Features: relatively small ant that is rusty red to brownish black or black with a single segment between the thorax and the abdomen

Status: native; common
Habitat: wooded areas but can be found in and near structures like sidewalks and building foundations

Wood ants belong to a variety of Formica species that are not easy to tell apart. Typically they secrete formic acid and some can squirt it several feet if alarmed. Nests are often constructed close to small trees and shrubs surrounded by dirt or bits of detritus. The number of ants in a nest can be quite large and they can become very aggressive if the nest is disturbed.

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Little Black Ant

Photo: © Alex Wild

Little Black Ant

(Monomorium minimum, Formicidae family)

Order: Hymenoptera (Ants, Bees and Wasps)
Size: 0.1 in (2 mm)
Distinguishing Features: tiny and have very little body hair. They are shiny black to dark brown with a single segment between the thorax and abdomen; end of the antennae is club-shaped

Status: native; common
Habitat: forest edges but often invades buildings

Little Black Ants are the most common ants in homes and often are seen carrying food back to their nest. They are scavengers, eating a wide variety of potential foodstuffs. Nests are usually constructed below ground with a small crater at the opening or in rotting wood.

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Red Harvester Ant

Photo: © Alex Wild

Red Harvester Ant

Photo: Melissa

Red Harvester Ant

(Pogonomyrmex barbatus, Formicidae family)

Order: Hymenoptera (Ants, Bees and Wasps)
Size: 0.2 - 0.5 in (5 - 13 mm)
Distinguishing Features: large red ants have fine ridges on the face

Status: native; common
Habitat: arid chaparral

Although Red Harvester Ants are often mistaken for Fire Ants, they are not closely related to any Fire Ant species. However, these ants do have a painful sting. They primarily eat seeds and nest underground. The nest is characterized by a relatively flat mound devoid of vegetation and covered with gravel.

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Western Harvester Ant

Photo: Beth Cortright

Western Harvester Ant

(Pogonomyrmex occidentalis, Formicidae family)

Order: Hymenoptera (Ants, Bees and Wasps)
Size: 0.1 - 0.3 in (2 - 8 mm)
Distinguishing Features: blocky head with a beard of coarse hairs and a threadlike waist

Status: native; common
Habitat: deserts and arid grasslands at or below 6,300 ft (1,900 m)

Like other harvester ants, this species collects edible seeds and pollen. Colonies are topped with a conical mound of gravel or dirt and surrounded by areas devoid of plant life. A colony can contain up to 20,000 workers and one queen. These ants have a painful sting.

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