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Wheel Bug

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Wheel Bug

Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus L.) is a large insect (1-1/4 inches) found in meadows and on trees and shrubs throughout united states. It gets its common name from the appearance of a cog-like wheel emerging from the top of the thorax. Adult wheel bugs are commonly attracted to lights at night near wooded areas.

Wheel Bug

Wheel Bug

Wheel Bug is a true bug and has a stout beak that it uses to feed. It belongs to a group of bugs called the assassin bugs. It is the largest of the assassin bugs in NewJersey and connecticut. These are insect predators that feed on caterpillars, moths, and other soft bodied insects. The front legs are enlarged and used to seize and hold its victims. The wheel bug then inserts its beak into its prey to drain the body fluids. These insects are considered beneficial in the garden and wooded areas, as they reduce the numbers of some insect pests.

Adults are 1-1/4 inch long and have a slender, long antennae reddish-brown. The body is grayish black with an upright one half cogwheel like crest on the thorax bearing 8 to 12 protruding teeth like structures. The membrane of the front wing is coppery colored. Wheel bugs are rather uncommon, but attract attention when found due to their bizarre appearance. They are voracious predators, attacking large caterpillars, such as tomato hornworms, and suck them dry. They will not bite humans readily, but when they do, the bite is very painful.

Life Cycle: The wheel bug has one generation a year and over winters in the egg stage. Some adults live into the winter months, particularly in the central and southern portions of the state. Of approximately 60 Florida wheel bug records available, nymphs were recorded from 22 April to 15 June, with most occurring in May. The limitation of nymphal records to springtime is good evidence for only one generation a year. It seems likely that nymphs are present in March, but have not been recognized and reported until they are much larger in late April.

Wheel Bug

Wheel Bug

This developmental time would account for new generation adults not being reported in Florida until late May, assuming hatching occurred approximately the first of March. June and July are the peak months for reports of adults in Florida. Reports drop off beginning in August, with very few in September and October, then increase again in November, with records throughout the Newyork and New Jersey. This suggests some aestivation during late summer and early fall. These late fall adults are mostly gravid females.

A wheel bug caught at Gainesville during December and brought into the lab, laid eggs shortly thereafter. The warmer climate of the South results in lingering of some adults into late fall and winter, with some late oviposition, and in earlier egg hatching next spring. The measured the developmental time for nymphs in outdoor cages. Average time for each of the five nymphal instars was first 21 days, second -14 days, third-15 days, fourth -17 days, and fifth - 32 days, totaling 99 days.

Habitat and Food Source: Wheel bug nymphs and adults are predaceous on a wide range of insects including honey bees and caterpillars. Therefore, they are beneficial because they help control various other insects. They are rarely numerous so they have limited impact on pest insect populations in agricultural crops.

Some of the favored habitats of wheel bugs include cotton, goldenrod, sunflower, and other flowers, trunks of locust trees, citrus and pecan groves, and miscellaneous forest, shade, and fruit trees.

Wheel Bug

Wheel Bug

Bites from wheel bugs: Some assassin bugs, most notably the wheel bug, will bite if picked up and handled carelessly. The bite of the wheel bug is immediately and intensely painful. Persons who are bitten should wash and apply antiseptic to the site of the bite. Oral analgesics, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, may be useful to reduce the pain. Treatment by a physician is not usually needed, though Caladryl® or topical corticosteroids may help reduce swelling or itching at the site of the bite. As with any insect sting or bite, the victim should seek medical attention immediately if there is any sign of anaphylactic reaction, such as generalized swelling, itching, hives or difficulty breathing.

Control: Because wheel bugs prey upon plant pests and because wheel bug numbers are usually low, control of wheel bugs is not warranted. Direct handling of wheel bugs should be avoided since they can inflict a painful bite. If these bugs are a nuisance, they can be safely dislodged with a stick, brush or some other object and relocated.

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