I've heard that it's possible to identify insect species uniquely based only on the vein patterns of their wings. Is this true? If so, what is this?

Insect Wing

The image is taken from an unsolved Internet puzzle game from a few years ago. (The creators of the puzzle are no longer to be found, so I can't ask them). I believe the wing is probably from some species of cicada, but I couldn't be sure, and if possible I'd like to know what particular species of cicada.

Also, is there any kind of formal classification/notation for insects' wing venation? Might shed some light on what the puzzle makers actually meant by the dratted thing! (You can remove this bit, or I can, if it's considered to be asking two questions at once.)

  • $\begingroup$ In case the answers here are not enough to solve the puzzle, you could post it at our sister site puzzling.SE. $\endgroup$
    – Arsak
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 18:51

1 Answer 1


There is a way to classify insect wings: the Comstock-Needham system.

From Wikipedia:

The Comstock–Needham system is a naming system for insect wing veins, devised by John Comstock and George Needham in 1898. It was an important step in showing the homology of all insect wings. This system was based on Needham's pretracheation theory that was later discredited by Frederic Charles Fraser in 1938.

The system assigns names to the enlarged longitudinal veins of the wings and provides subnumbering for different branches of those veins. The system also names cross-veins and cells (transparent areas between veins) relative to the major longitudinal veins.

Again, according to Wikipedia:

enter image description here

the major longitudinal veins are named: > - costa C, meaning rib > - subcosta Sc, meaning below the rib > - radius R, in analogy with a bone in the forearm, the radius > - media M, meaning middle > - cubitus Cu, meaning elbow > - anal veins A, in reference to its posterior location

The cells are named after the vein on the anterior side

  • $\begingroup$ Since the questions asks about identifying the wing based on the given image - do you have any idea what it is? $\endgroup$
    – Arsak
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ As I said in the question, I think it's a cicada. The whole puzzle has a recurring cicada theme, and also from looking at some photos elsewhere in an online article about different types of insect wings that seems to be the best match ( metafysica.nl/wings/wings_14.html , scroll down to type 6, "Megadipterygia", although I think the author made that classification up). $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 1:38

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