Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Wheelbug visits

Well, well, my lucky day! As I arrived home from work and set about wheeling the car into the garage, a peculiar blob on the wall caught my eye. A Wheelbug! This was the second Arilus cristatus that I've seen by my garage door this fall, and I've seen a number of others elsewhere. I suspect these bizarre hemipterans are having a good year. Not one to let a good photo op go to waste, I rushed inside, rigged the macro gear and flash, and rushed back outside to deal with the little (but BIG as bugs go!) animal.

A word of caution for would-be handlers of Wheelbugs. Exercise caution. These are predatory insects, and have quite the powerful tool for dispatching victims. I'm told that the bite of a Wheel Bug is painful indeed, and can take a while to heal. I exercised caution, and carefully moved the insect to a nearby shrub in order to create a better backdrop.

Fortunately, Wheelbugs have rather calm dispositions, and can be worked easily. But I have seen them strike and kill, and their pounce is speedy as a leopard. If you were to allow one to crawl onto your hand at its own pace, everything would probably be cool. But if for whatever reason the bug decided to bite, you wouldn't react in time to prevent the strike. Better to allow it to crawl onto a branch or leaf, and move it around that way.

Wheelbugs look otherworldly, like some science fiction alien come to life. The sight of a fully grown adult, such as this one, is sure to get a reaction from anyone who sees it. This critter is one of the assassin bugs, which are six-legged stalk and pounce predators. I once fed a Wheelbug a leaf-footed bug to see its tactics firsthand. The kill is impressive, and fortunately for you, the reader, I made a video of that experience which you can see RIGHT HERE.

Here's the Wheelbug's death-dealing proboscis. It's as if a stout hypodermic syringe was bolted to its face. The bug jabs that into its victim with a powerful stab, and pumps in chemicals that quickly disable the prey, and dissolve the soft inner parts. Once the kill's insides have reached the consistency of a slushy milkshake, the Wheelbug sucks out the contents. Nice. That's an efficient proboscis: combination killing needle, and drinking straw.

I like Wheelbugs, and certainly let them be. They are native, and part of the ecological chain. And now for a bit of utterly anecdotal, completely hypothetical speculation. As we've seen - if you watched my video above - Wheelbugs have no qualms about killing stinkbugs and their allies. I have seen FAR less of those horrid invasive brown marmorated stinkbugs this year than in the past four or five years. Like, maybe two or three in the house this fall. Normally I'd have to dispatch a few dozen by this time of year, and my place is sealed fairly tight. I have to wonder if the Wheelbugs are exploiting the nonnative stinkbugs as a food source, and impacting their numbers. That might explain the seemingly larger than normal Wheelbug numbers that I and others have seen this fall.

Well, one can hope, anyway. If the Wheelbugs manage to run out the brown marmorated stinkbugs, they'll deserve an award of some kind.

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