Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wheel Bug attacks, kills!

Brace yourself, gentle reader. All is not kind in nature, and what follows is, from the perspective of a bug, a nightmare come to life. Here's something worth reflecting on, before we get started: what if WE had hunters like the beast below after us?

Wheel Bug, Arilus cristatus, perhaps the most intimidating of the assassin bugs in eastern North America. This is a full grown adult, and it's a few inches long. They seem rather fearless, too, holding their ground when approached.

Wheel Bugs seem straight out of the cast of a Mad Max movie or some other futuristic sci-fi flick. That bizarre hemispherical gear cog jutting from their back is the source of the name, and check out the quads on those forelegs. Powerful indeed, as we shall see, rather graphically I might add. But it's that hypodermic syringe of a proboscis that'll get you every time, if you should be a careless bug.

Hunting Wheel Bugs either just sit and wait, or move with a very slow deliberate gait. Don't be fooled. When the moment is right and the prey is close, they lunge forth in a deathly blur, simultaneously enfolding the victim with those powerful forelegs and stabbing it forcefully with the proboscis. They then pump in chemicals which rapidly liquefy the inner organs and tissues of the victim. Once the insides have attained a nice frothy milkshake-like consistency, the Wheel Bug sucks them back out through the versatile proboscis.

Ah, here's where it gets good. A clueless Leaf-footed Bug (perhaps Acanthocephala sp.) ambles into range. Leaf-foots don't seem to worry much about predators, perhaps because they have glands that emit noxious chemicals when they're molested. Such protective measures mean nothing to the Wheel Bug, however, as this doomed leaf-foot shall soon learn.

It was interesting to watch the Wheel Bug stalk. As soon as it picked up on the leaf-foot, it smoothly arced its antennae towards the prey, gently touching it and thus presumably gathering locational data to help it make the kill. It then ever so hypnotically raised its forelegs, then in the blink of an eye lunged and jabbed. The leaf-foot had no chance.

The video above shows in graphic detail the leopard-like pounce and quick kill of the Wheel Bug. That Leaf-footed Bug is fair-sized itself, but offers no real resistance and is quickly dispatched.

The assassin bug easily manhandles the prey, holding it tightly while pumping in acid-like chemicals via that tube of a proboscis, which is inserted in the shoulder area of the leaf-foot. I suspect that the chemicals are rather forcefully shot into the victim, as it doesn't seem to take very long for the prey to die, and for the Wheel Bug to begin partaking of the liquified innards.

Some more gratuitous, gory video of the Wheel Bug dealing with its kill.
We stopped by a few hours later, and the Wheel Bug still was hard at work enjoying the fruits of its labor. Apparently, after the victim has perished, the Wheel Bug repositions its proboscis elsewhere in the abdomen, the easier to suck up the liquified insides, I suppose.

These photos and videos were shot today, in Scioto Trail State Forest in Ross County, Ohio. Kelly Williams-Sieg, who likes insects every bit as much as I do and knows more about them, came along and we found all manner of goodies. I took 400 images, and caught some other fabulous bugs on film. I will try and share some of the others later.


Tom Arbour said...

Great images and video Jim. I've yet to see a wheel bug actually attack anything, so seeing that was very cool.


Dan Huber said...

wow, really great info and pictures/video
glad they arent bigger


Jenn Jilks said...

Incredible captures. I saw 'attack', and was worried!

We hare having much trouble in My Muskoka drownings! We remember that nature is not kind- and that there is a cycle.

Janet Creamer Martin said...


Great closeup, you can see all the little hairs on its thorax!

Great video capture of its strike.

Scott said...

Great shots and that video was good. Thanks for posting this. Glad these things aren't hunting me.


Dawn Fine said...

On mY goodness! yikes!
Graphic Graphic..I had to close my eyes..LOL..
ok so this is another i will put on my blogaholic weekly reader..
Thanks for the bug fun!

Jack said...

Thats really great and good information with that picture..Thanks for letting us know about this....Nice post..
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Anonymous said...

I was stung on my breast a few years ago by a wheel bug while taking clothes off the line. It was by far the worst pain I've ever felt in my 56 years.

Heather S. said...

This is so great! Just found one of these on my Echinacea feasting on a bumble bee. Your blog is such a great resource and I can always identify what my sons and I observe in our yard with your information and images. My six year old especially liked the videos of the wheel bug attacking! Thanks for all you do.

Unknown said...

Thank you for being so awesome and posting these photos! I was searching for a suspect wasp nest today and came across one on my front porch carrying a sac of eggs... I let her be and I am glad I did; the wasp nest is directly in front of where she is hanging out - she is our ally!

Cheryl said...

We came upon this blog when searching to ID a bug we found today. Have never seen it before but have seen plenty of the nymphs...just didn't know what they were. My 5-year old and I are fascinated. We were disappointed when the videos didn't show up that were mentioned above. Is there a way to access them? We are studying our wheel bug for a few hours in a jar before we release him. Glad I read enough on the first site I found about wheel bugs in Texas to know to be careful not to get "stabbed". Sounds painful. But we are still loving watching him!

Unknown said...

Awesome post, Jim! Thanks! My kids found two Wheel Bugs mating on our back screen door when they came home from school and freaked out. I looked them up and came across this post, which I read to them, and we watched the video.

Great info! Love the dramatic writing!

Anonymous said...

Oct 8th 12:44. Just watched a wheel bug pounce on a yellow jacket on my humming bird feeder. Hope it doesn't carry off my cat Tubby. Mr or miss wheel is still working on yellow jacket , so tubby is safe.

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