There are thousands of insect species in the northeastern United States, but one of the most unique and intimidating of these is the wheel bug.

Big Wheels and Big Beaks: The Wheel Bug and You

There are thousands of insect species in the northeastern United States, but one of the most unique and intimidating of these is the wheel bug. These unique bugs are both friend and foe to mankind, depending upon your point of view, but almost all would agree it is best to respect this formidable predator. Below is more information on the fascinating wheel bug and how it may impact your life.

Wheel-Bug Appearance

Wheel bugs (Arilus cristatus) are from a large family of insects that include assassin bugs, another nasty predator that occasionally has negative interactions with humans. Wheel bugs' natural range covers much of the United States, and wheel bugs are also known to exist in parts of South America.

Wheel bugs are distinctive from other insects in several ways and gain the attention of people for many of these same reasons.

Overall Size

At a length that can well exceed one inch and sometimes approach an inch and a half, wheel bugs are in the "big bug" category. Wheel bugs aren't the largest bug, as that award belongs to walking sticks and mantises, but wheel bugs' size makes the species noticeable.

Distinctive Armored Back

The namesake of the wheel bug is the unusual rounded torso that resembles a semicircular saw blade. Scientists do not know the purpose of the wheel, but it allows people to make a quick identification of the species.

Long "Beak"

The long protrusion from the wheel bug's head is not technically a beak but is actually a mouth. The bug uses this beak-like structure for feeding and for defense, if necessary.

Wheel-Bug Life Cycle and Behavior

Wheel bugs are hatched from eggs during the late spring and into summer, and the bugs emerge as tiny but already fierce predators. The baby wheel bugs want to eat when born and are even known to eat each other. Interestingly, the nymphs, as baby insects are known, do not possess the distinctive wheel on their backside, as this appears during the last stage before adulthood.

Once they are born, wheel bugs will locate in an area where suitable prey can be found. This area often includes residential gardens and backyards where insects are plentiful. Wheel bugs are not always seen, as they lurk beneath leaves and other areas where they can hide and wait for prey. In addition, wheel bugs are earth colored, and this makes them difficult to spot when they are in an outdoor setting.

Feeding for the wheel bug involves grasping available prey and puncturing the hapless creature with its long beak. Once the prey is firmly in the wheel bug's grasp, the wheel bug will inject saliva and enzymes that kill the prey and dissolve its internal organs. The meal is finished by the wheel bug's slurping up the liquefied insides of the now-deceased victim.

Wheel-Bug Interactions with People

It is important to emphasize that wheel bugs are important predators of many pest insects. Aphids, caterpillars, beetles, and sawflies are just a few of the insects that can do great harm to valuable plant specimens, and the voracious eating habits of the wheel bug is a natural means of limiting the amount of harm done.

However, it is also important to note the wheel bug is capable of inflicting a painful bite upon people who get too close. A wheel bug's beak is able to pierce the skin, and though no actual venom is injected, the pain is substantial, and the healing process can take a while, especially if a person has an allergic response to the bite.

Responses to Wheel Bugs

Though wheel bugs are scary in appearance and are able to cause a lot of pain with their bite, keep in mind their beneficial behavior before indiscriminately killing them. Wheel bugs will leave you alone if you don't bother them, and they are likely to only help your yard or garden become a much healthier place by controlling the number of plant-eating pests.

If you find you can't live with wheel bugs, then contact a qualified pest-control specialist. They will be more than happy to come out and help solve your problems with wheel bugs or any other insect that is troubling you.