Wheel Bugs

When one studies insects he or she will quickly discover there are several beneficial insects. Yes, we all have heard of the praying mantis, but does the name wheel bug ring a bell?


wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) -Photo Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

Wheel bugs get their name from a cog-like wheel looking structure on their back. They are very aggressive looking and they should be, because they are a predator. Adding to that, wheel bugs belong to a group of insects called assassin bugs. The wheel bug is actually the largest assassin bug in KY.

Wheel bugs feed on several soft body insects such as sawflies, aphids, brown marmorated stink bugs, moths, and caterpillars (which could be either good if the caterpillars are causing harm to your plants, or bad if you have a butterfly garden). However, sometimes there will be a few good guy casualties along the way, such as honey bees and lady beetles.

Wheel bugs can be found in fields, gardens, and in the landscape. They have one generation per year. In the fall, the female lays several dozen eggs in a cluster on a small twig of a tree or shrub. In the early spring, the eggs hatch and small red and black nymphs emerge. Don’t be scared when you see them. They will try to avoid you. However, don’t pick one up to hold it. It can deliver a painful bite. Their beak like feeding structure enables them to pierce their insect prey.

This spring keep an eye out for these amazing insects. You just may have a few protecting your vegetable garden and you didn’t even know it.

Submitted by Kara Back, Agent for Horticulture, Taylor Co. Cooperative Extension Service