The Wheel Bug: The Queen of Assassins
Let me introduce you to the Queen of Assassins, the wheel bug or (Arilus cristatus ). Wheel bugs are quite common in crops, home gardens and in various natural areas found around Sumter and Hernando counties. Wheel bugs are the largest of a group of bugs known as assassin bugs. I refer to them as the Queen of Assassin bugs because the females are quite larger than the males. Both however, are equally effective in taking down their prey. Wheel bugs can grow to a size about 1 1/4″ long. The adults are very easy to identify. Wheel bugs are long-legged, have long antennae and big round eyes. Like most assassin bugs, they have a piercing-sucking mouthpart. The large, stout beak can easily be seen. The most diagnostic observation is the large semicircular crest on their thorax that has about 8-12 spiny like structures. The appendage itself looks vaguely like a roosters comb. The name assassin bug and the shear size of this insect may seem intimidating to humans. Do not fear it, just respect it. It will usually want to avoid contact with humans, unless of course a human decides to pick one up or handle it. If that happens, the wheel bug may defend itself with a very painful bite. The bite is reportable very painful and the feeling is quick and intense. The pain has been described as 10X worse than a hornet sting. Ouch! It has also been reported the pain lasts several minutes and may takes weeks, or even months to heal.
The wheel bug should be left alone. It is a very beneficial insect. One of its favorite meals are caterpillars. These are voracious insects that will also feed on aphids, sawflies and other pests. They will also go after large grasshoppers and even the brown marmorated stink bug. Once the assassin grabs a hold of its prey, it pierces its large beak into the preys body and quickly paralyzing it, within 30 seconds!
If you see a wheel bug, consider yourself lucky and leave it be. They play a very important role in the ecosystem and will help you manage pests naturally.
Photo: Susan League