Large, hideous, biting insect
I live in Iowa City, IA, and last summer I was working on a roof top, and felt a sharp pain on my upper back/shoulder. I turned my head to see quite possibly the ugliest insect I’ve ever observed sticking it’s beak-like mouth parts into my skin. I almost fell off of the roof. It then flew very fast, like a wasp, when I swatted at it. I tried to photograph it with my camera phone, as it landed on a gutter close to me, but it flew away before I could take the picture.
A few days ago, while shopping, I saw what I am 99% positive is the same insect lying dead on a window sill inside the store. I managed to retrieve the insect and brought it home to photograph it. I placed a quarter next to it for size comparison.
Though the images I have provided are relatively clear, I will try to describe the insect as well. In basic shape, it resembles a giant mosquito, with large, wasp-like wings. It has large, black eyes, and short, beak-like mouth parts. It’s thorax is short and thick, with long legs which protrude from it, initially, close together, then flair-out after the first joint. The back of it’s thorax has thin black and gold stripes running laterally from it’s head to it’s abdomen. It’s abdomen is long compared to it’s thorax, and has alternating black and gold segments.
Hopefully, you might tell me what this beast is, and whether it really is a blood-feeder. If it is, I imagine it does not normally bite people, as the bite was very painful. If it is not, why did it choose to bite me?
Regards, Matthew L. Great site, BTW!
Eastern Iowa, USA
The insect in your photo is a Robber Fly known as a Hanging Thief, possibly Diogmites misellus which is pictured alive on BugGuide. Like all Robber Flies, Hanging Thieves are predators, but they are not considered mammalian blood suckers. Hanging Thieves prey on insects, but they would be capable of biting a human. We want to clarify that they do not suck blood from warm blooded creatures, and if your biter was in fact a Hanging Thief, the bite was something of an anomaly. We would be more inclined to think your biter was a Horse Fly or a Deer Fly and not a Hanging Thief.
Thank you very much for your prompt reply.
I did an image search for both of the insects you mentioned in you letter- a Horse Fly, and a Deer Fly- and I am now even more certain that the insect which bit me, and the image of the dead insect I sent to you are both the same insect. What is most vivid in my recollection of the event are the black and gold stripes on the insects thorax, and it’s head. The insect which bit me was only several inches from my eyes, and, when it flew away, it landed on a gutter near me, allowing me to look at it for at least a minute longer.
I now know from both you, and from several articles I’ve read online about the Hanging Thief, that it is NOT a warm blood-feeder, and, as you mentioned, is, rather, a predator of insects. But, yes, it did bite me, as anomalous an event as that may have been. Maybe it just didn’t like me…
I have always been fascinated by insects and other Arthropods- especially spiders. There are various insects and spiders which really seem to bother other people that I have no problem observing- even handling (gently!). At the same time, there are a few which truly inspire phobia-like terror in me. The Hanging Thief is definitely one of those insects. I have trouble even looking at pictures of the creature. It is a relief to know that it is (for the most part!) harmless, and, likely, beneficial in that it might eat insects which really are problematic.
Anyway, thanks again for your help.
Regards, Matthew La Vallee