Many times when a gardener finds a bug on their plants, they quickly go to the shed to find some kind of insecticide to rid their garden of this intruder, but a lot of times they are doing more harm than good. There are many insects out there that actually help rather than hinder our quest for the perfect garden.
Meet the wheel bug ( Arilus cristatus ), part of the family Reduviidae or assassin bugs. There are about 65 species of assassin bugs found in Florida, but the wheel bug will be the main focus this time around. This bug is part of the group that are considered beneficials because of their diet; other insects that are considered pests, like aphids, stink bugs and flies to name a few.
Wheel bugs are dusty gray with a slight hint of brown. They have a piece of armor on their back that looks like a cog wheel which is where they get their name. They are about 1″ long, have narrow heads and a long beak which is used to stab and inject their venom. Although they are drab in color, they are easy to spot. You can find them perched on the edge of leaves or inside flowers waiting for something to land so they can grab it, inject it with a paralyzing toxin and then suck out what has been liquified, leaving just the shell of its victim. I’ve seen this done to a stink bug and although it looks pretty brutal, I am not a big fan of stink bugs!
Although these creatures should be welcomed into your yard, as with any predator, caution should be taken when approaching. They move and fly awkwardly, so you do not have to worry about them ambushing you. I recently watched a couple that had taken up residency on a hibiscus. I watched them for about an hour total and they never made any moves at me, just intently watched me. Do not handle the wheel bug. If they are handled and feel threatened they will sting you. There usually isn’t any severe reactions to this bite, but it is painful and discomfort increases at the site before it abates. People who have been bitten claim that it is painful, comparable to a wasp or bee sting for about a day. The spot stays tender for a couple of weeks. As with most creatures, if you don’t bother them, they will gladly repay the favor. The same goes with the wheel bug.
Deyrup, Mark. Florida’s Fabulous Insects.World Publications. 2000. Pg.60