As their name suggests, heteropteran bugs can generally be distinguished by their wing structure, or at least those species that have fully formed wings can. Winged heteropteran bugs have forewings divided into a tough hardened base and a membranous tip (Heteros in Greek means different; and ptera comes from the Greek for wing). They also generally hold their wings flat across the back of their abdomen when at rest. Apterygous species (those without fully formed wings) need to be identified by a combination of other features.

There are over 500 species of heteropteran bugs in the British Isles.