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  • Writer's pictureChelle Hartzer

What Did You Just Call Me? (AKA: Flamethrowers and dragons)

As I sit here and try to come up with something brilliant for this week’s blog post…the universe is giving me absolutely nothing. So let’s talk about common names.

I once had an account I was called out to because of mosquitoes getting inside. The first thing I do in these situations is confirm that someone has looked at the pest and it is indeed what they say it is. They promised me it was mosquitoes.


(Yeah, you know what’s coming next don’t you?)


Short version – the technician pointed to the light trap and a rather large fly and said: “see, it’s a mosquito hawk”. So…. not a mosquito. Not a hawk either. A more commonly used name for these is crane flies. They are harmless and do not eat mosquitoes. Sealed up some openings and problem solved.

That got me thinking of all the other pests that can have multiple or confusing common names. Here are a few:

  • Dragonfly – not a fly nor is it a dragon (I’m as disappointed as you are).

  • Waterbug – now there are a few true bugs that live in or on water, but this is typically referring to American cockroaches. Which are not bugs and do not live in water, but are found in damp areas.

  • Toe-biter – this was a new one for me when I moved to Georgia! It’s generally referring to a giant water bug (see waterbug above). They do in fact have some pretty big piercing mouthparts so protect your toes.

  • Locust – not a locust. In the central part of the country, people call cicadas “locusts”.

  • Piss ant – while they are ants, they are European wood ants and the name comes from the pine needle nesting material that smells like… well… you get it.

  • Sugar ants – yes they are ants, but not made of sugar and not a species present in the US.  See above “piss ant”

  • Fireflies – not flies and do not have fire (though I am now absolutely imagining a little insect with flames shooting out of its butt). They are beetles.

  • Lightning bugs – not bugs, do not produce lightning, see above “fireflies”.

  • Palmetto bugs – not bugs, they are cockroaches. However, they can live in palmettos so this is half right.

  • Book lice – not lice and they can’t read. They are related to biting lice though.

  • Bark lice – see above “book lice”

  • Snow fleas – not fleas but they are often seen in the spring on fresh snow. They are a species of springtail.

  • Earwigs – not found in ears, nor do they wear wigs.

  • Silverfish – they are silver colored, however they are not fish nor are they associated with fish.

  • Cow killer – (this one makes me cringe!) definitely not a cow, not a killer, and doesn’t kill cows. The name comes from the especially painful sting that is “painful enough to kill a cow”. It's a species of velvet ant.

  • No see ums – while small, these flies can be seen. The problem is you won’t notice when they bite, it’s after they bite and leave that you notice it.

  • Pill bugs – not bugs, not pills! These are actually the only known terrestrial crustaceans (not to be confused with pill millipedes).


Those are just some of the more common ones that came to mind. It may seem silly to look at these and laugh, but this can make pest control hard. Customers can call and say they are having an issue with one thing and when you get there it could be something completely different. Pictures are always helpful to know what you might be walking into, but getting a clear picture of some tiny arthropods isn’t easier either!


Having your own fractional entomologists can ID pests and train employees to ID. It can save companies time ($), have happier customers ($$), and retain employees longer ($$$). Contact us, we can make that happen for you.

urban pest consulting


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