It’s a Wheel Bug!

So I walked into the bathroom the other day and found this on the window:

What the?  Dang that's one big bug.  1 1/2 inches long, not counting the legs.

What the? Dang that’s one big bug. 1 1/2 inches long, not counting the legs.

I grabbed my camera and got the shot, but I wanted more.  I took the screen off the window (yes, they are on the inside of the freakin’ windows – don’t get me started) and very slowly cranked open the window.  Wow.  It looked like something from the age of the dinosaur.  But I couldn’t get a good picture so I started to reach out and pick it up.  Fortunately, I hesitated when I saw its ‘beak’ and grabbed a fish net just to be safe. In researching these guys I found out that their bite is more painful than any hornet or wasp. And because the saliva contains toxic enzymes that paralyze and liquefy the bugs they eat, you can wind up with swelling and numbness and a bite that can take weeks or months to heal.  Yikes!

After coaxing it into the net I took it out on the porch for pictures.  It wasn’t too keen on side shots, but I did get this one which helped enormously in identifying this bug.

She wasn't real thrilled with a big 'eye' looking at her (camera) and would scoot away.  Do you see that 'cog' like structure on her back?  Adult wheel bugs are the only bugs that have this distinctive feature.

She wasn’t real thrilled with a big ‘eye’ looking at her (camera) and would scoot away. Do you see that ‘cog’ like structure on her back? Adult wheel bugs are the only bugs that have this distinctive feature.

The Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus) belongs to the family Reduviidae.  It is a true bug, the largest of the assassin bugs, and found nationwide.  There is only one generation a year.  The females are larger than the males and it isn’t unheard of for the female to eat the male after mating.  Eggs are laid in the fall on a low bush twig or on a tree trunk in a hexagonal cluster of 40 – 200 eggs.  Wheel bugs overwinter as eggs and hatch in the spring.  Nymphs are about ant size, red and black, and do not have the ‘wheel’ on their backs. Like the adults, they are also predators.

This photo is from http://bugguide.net/node/view/48139  (Love this site!)

Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus) Eggs (First Out) - Arilus cristatus

Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus) Eggs (First Out) – Arilus cristatus

Efland, Orange County, North Carolina, USA
April 16, 2006
Size: 1/4″
This was the first of the clutch to hatch out.

********************

It takes the nymphs roughly three months and 5 instars (molts if you will) to reach adulthood.  That is why these bugs generally don’t come to anyone’s attention till the end of summer, most particularly in the fall.

Once she settled down she started walking around in a slow disjointed fashion. She's actually kinda pretty in her own way.  And she had no problem with me standing over her to take pictures.  Go figure.   Upset wheel bugs will extrude a pair of bright, orangey red scent sacs that release a pungent scent.  Fortunately, she never got that bothered over my catching and moving her.

Once she settled down, she started walking around in a slow disjointed fashion. She’s actually kinda pretty in her own way. And she had no problem with me standing over her to take pictures. Go figure. Upset wheel bugs will extrude a pair of bright, orangey red scent sacs that release a pungent scent. Fortunately, she never got that bothered over my catching and moving her.

Wheel bugs are top of the line predators.  Having them around is a signal that your yard is a healthy ecosystem with an intact food web.  In other words, lots of good things to eat and no poisons.  They are mostly diurnal but the clever ones will figure out coming to your lights to hunt at night will give them easy prey.  The kill is usually ambush style with the wheel bug lunging forward to grasp its prey with its front legs while plunging its long beak into the prey’s soft parts and injecting the enzymes that paralyze and kill it, usually within 15 to 30 seconds.  The insides of the bugs are liquefied by the enzymes and sucked up through the wheel bugs beak.  (Yuk.) While the wheel bug helps us out eating pest bugs, they will also snack on so-called ‘good’ bugs if that’s what’s available.  The really nice thing about these guys (particularly for me here) is that they are able to prey on the well-protected hairy caterpillars that defoliate the trees. Yay!

Even the antennae have joints!  She waved them constantly and touched the fish net handle frequently.  I was hoping to see her fly; it's supposed to be slow and loud like a hummingbird.  But, alas, she was in no hurry and walked off into the bushes.  *sigh* Here's a strange fact for you:  they are apparently attracted to turpentine oil!

Even the antennae have joints! She waved them constantly and touched the fish net handle frequently. I was hoping to see her fly; it’s supposed to be slow and loud like a hummingbird. But, alas, she was in no hurry and walked off into the bushes. *sigh* Strange fact: they are apparently attracted to turpentine oil!

Remember, these are ‘GOOD’ bugs even if they look a little intimidating at first. So NO SQUASHING! 🙂

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2 responses to “It’s a Wheel Bug!

  1. Wow that’s so cool that you found one of those. I discovered those existed when one got onto our dorm hall in college. It startled and was startled by one of my 6 ft tall friends. It actually started threatening him. They are so cool aren’t they?

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