Photo: © Debbie Hadley, WILD Jersey
These odd-looking insects seem made for each other. I found the pair taking a roll in the milkweed back in late August. In the past week, several forum members have posted mystery images of these same bugs. What are they, exactly?
These easy-to-recognize insects are wheel bugs, Arilus cristatus, of the order Hemiptera (true bugs). Wheel bugs belong to the assassin bug family, and prey on other insects. Like other assassin bugs, wheel bugs are beneficial insects that help control pest populations in the garden and landscape. Should you be lucky enough to encounter one in your yard, leave it be.
In late summer and fall, wheel bugs are busy mating and laying eggs. The eggs will survive the winter, with bright red nymphs emerging in spring. Once a male mates with a female, he will try to keep other males away from her.
Wheel bugs are so named for the unique appendage on their backs, which resembles a cogwheel. Be careful handling them, as they can inflict a nasty bite when threatened.
User Photos of Wheel Bugs:
- Close-ups of wheel bug adults, by About.com member olmail
- Wheel bugs laying eggs, by About.com member DiamondCloudMom