How to Identify Flying Insects & Beetles in Michigan


A large number of flying insects are found in Michigan, including various beetle species, wasps and hornets, butterflies and dragonflies. Many insect species lie dormant during the winter or leave the state, but these insects become plentiful again as the weather warms up. By carefully observing body segments, wings and body markings, you can correctly identify the insects found throughout Michigan. The state can boast of having the Mitchell's satyr, an extremely rear butterfly. On the other hand, it is also home to the emerald ash borer beetle, which is destroying Michigan's ash trees.

Things You'll Need

  • Magnifying glass
  • Field guide to Michigan insects
  • Observe the behavior and surroundings of the insects you are watching. Wasps, hornets and bees aggressively protect their hives, and gather in large numbers to do so. Butterflies can be sighted on and around flowers and plants as they search for nectar, while dragonflies are typically seen above or near water.

  • Look closely at the insect's wings. Butterflies have four --- two forewings and two hindwings --- that are made up of tiny pigmented scales, which accounts for their attractive colors. The wings of dragonflies are transparent. Wasps and hornets have only two wings, while beetles have two sets of wings.

  • Examine the thorax and abdominal segments when trying to identify the different wasps and hornets. The bald-faced hornet has a reddish-brown thorax and abdomen and legs of the same color. These hornets also have black-and-white markings on the face, thorax and the tip of the abdomen. The paper wasp is also a reddish-brown color, but it has yellowish markings on the abdomen. The paper wasp has a slender body and tapers at both ends, while the bald-faced hornet does not have a defined waist. The dominulus paper wasp is black with yellow stripes and spots, making it easily distinguishable from the other two species.

  • Look closely at the wings of butterflies that you discover. The monarch or milkweed butterfly is easily distinguishable because of its large, black-veined orange wings. You also often see this butterfly in the vicinity of and feeding on milkweed. The monarch, which you see throughout Michigan, has a wingspan of 3 1/2 to four inches. The wings of the karner blues are a vibrant, silvery blue color on the upper surface and light gray with rows of small black spots on the underside. Karner blue butterflies, which have a one-inch wingspan, are common on lupine flowers and in the pine barrens and oak savannas of Michigan. Mitchell's satyr, which is one of the world's rarest butterflies and is found only in Michigan and Indiana, has dark, chocolate-brown wings. This species has a wingspan of between 1 1/2 and 1 3/4 inches.

  • Look for the hard and shiny backs of beetle species. Michigan has numerous beetle types, including the six-spotted tiger beetle, longhorn beetle and the ground beetle. The ladybird beetles, or ladybugs, which eat aphids, mealybugs and scale mites, are easily identified by their red-and-black backs. The emerald ash borer beetle, which is a considerable threat to Michigan's estimated 700 million ash trees, is also easily identifiable by its green back.

  • Watch out for mosquito hawks or dragonflies. These delicate insects move with speed and agility not seen among wasps and butterflies. The green darner dragonfly is a large, showy insect with bulbous eyes and an emerald-green thorax. The green darner has an unmistakable blue abdomen. Damselflies are smaller and slimmer than dragonflies, and also unlike dragonflies, they fold their wings over their backs when resting. Dragonflies are commonly seen in wetlands and flying over water throughout Michigan.

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  • Photo Credit Paper Wasp image by Jon Yuschock from
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