Do Wheel Bugs Fly? Uncovering the Truth about These Intriguing Insects

Wheel bugs, scientifically known as Arilus cristatus, are fascinating insects commonly found in the United States. These large bugs, measuring 1 to 1.5 inches in length, are known for their distinctive wheel-like structure on their thorax, which sets them apart from other insects.

Adult wheel bugs are light gray to grayish-brown in color, while their nymphs go through various color stages, starting with red and black before transitioning to red and gray, and finally to a gray and black color pattern. One might wonder whether these insects, with their unique appearance, have the ability to fly.

Yes, adult wheel bugs can indeed fly. However, this ability is reserved for the adult life stage. Although older nymphs may have visible wing pads, they are not yet able to take flight. As predators in the insect world, wheel bugs use their flying capabilities to approach and catch their prey, which includes various pest insects. This makes them beneficial for maintaining a healthy ecological balance.

Wheel Bug Basics

Physical Characteristics

Wheel bugs (Arilus cristatus) are known for their unique, cog-like structure on their thorax called a “wheel.” This wheel has 8-12 teeth, and it is the distinguishing feature of these large, light gray to grayish-brown insects1. Adult wheel bugs range from 1 to 1.5 inches in length1. They have membranous wings which fold flat along their backs, creating an X pattern, and their antennae are thin and rusty brown2.

Some characteristics to note:

  • Cog-like wheel on thorax
  • 1 to 1.5 inches long
  • Light gray to grayish-brown
  • Membranous wings
  • Thin, rusty brown antennae

Distribution and Habitat

Wheel bugs are part of the Reduviidae family and are widely distributed in North America, especially in the United States3. They prefer habitats with abundant trees or gardens where they can find plenty of prey like caterpillars, moths, and other soft-bodied insects3.

Table 1: Comparison of Wheel Bug and Another Common Assassin Bug

Wheel Bug Milkweed Assassin Bug
Scientific Name Arilus cristatus Zelus longipes
Family Reduviidae Reduviidae
Appearance Gray, with a cog-like wheel on thorax Bright red or orange with black legs
Size 1 to 1.5 inches Slightly smaller (less than 1 inch)
Distribution North America (U.S.) North America (U.S., Mexico, Central America)
Habitat Trees, gardens Various habitats (gardens, grasslands)

The Life Cycle of Wheel Bugs

Nymphs

Wheel bugs start their life as eggs, which hatch into nymphs. Nymphs are smaller and wingless. They go through several molts before becoming adults. Molting usually occurs in spring, with nymphs actively hunting for prey.

Adults

Adult wheel bugs are distinct from nymphs due to their size and winged appearance. They grow up to 1 3/8 inches long and have a unique “wheel” structure on their backs. Adults can be gray to brown in color, with thin, rusty brown antennae.

Distinguishing Features:

  • Wheel structure on their backs
  • Folding wings creating an X pattern
  • Staw-like mouthparts for piercing and sucking
  • Claw-like beak with 3 segments

Reproduction

Wheel bugs mate during the warmer months, from spring to fall. After mating, females lay their eggs. Eggs overwinter until hatching the following year. Through each life stage, wheel bugs are predatory, consuming pest insects and contributing to their ecosystem.

Life stages:

  1. Eggs: Overwinter and hatch in spring
  2. Nymphs: Continuously grow and molt
  3. Adults: Mate and produce offspring

Behavior and Diet

Predatory Nature

Wheel bugs are predatory insects known for their beneficial role in controlling pest populations. They prey on various insects, including:

  • Caterpillars
  • Beetles
  • Bees
  • Stink bugs
  • Leafhoppers
  • Japanese beetles
  • Cicadas
  • Centipedes
  • Soft-bodied insects

Feeding on Prey

These beneficial insects use their sharp, beak-like mouthparts to pierce their prey. They inject enzymes that paralyze and liquefy the insides of their target, then they consume the prey’s body fluids.

Examples of common wheel bug prey:

  • Brown marmorated stink bug
  • Aphids

Flight and Movement

Wheel bugs are capable of flight, although it is not their primary mode of movement, as they often prefer to walk. Their front legs are adapted for grabbing prey, while their wings fold flat along their backs, creating an X pattern.

Comparison table of wheel bug features:

Feature Wheel bug
Predator Yes, preys on pest insects
Benefit Provides natural pest control
Risk Can deliver a painful bite if threatened
Movement Capable of flight, but usually walks
Taxonomy Part of the Hemiptera order (True bugs)
Feeding method Piercing and sucking mouthparts

To summarize, in this article section, we have explored the predatory nature, feeding habits, and movement capabilities of wheel bugs. These beneficial insects play a crucial role in controlling the population of various pests, making them advantageous to the environment. However, they can deliver a painful bite to humans if threatened, so handle with caution.

Wheel Bugs in Gardens and Landscapes

Benefits to Gardeners

Wheel bugs are beneficial insects for gardeners. They are predators that feed on pests like caterpillars, moths, and other arthropods, thus helping to maintain a healthy balance in gardens and landscapes. According to Michael J. Raupp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland, wheel bugs primarily prey on insects that harm plants in vegetable gardens and other plant habitats, such as:

  • Mexican bean beetles
  • Moths and their caterpillars
  • Spiders

Wheel bugs are commonly found in habitats like goldenrod, cotton, locust trees, and fruit trees. Although they are native to the U.S., they are now found from Guatemala to North America.

Managing Wheel Bugs

As wheel bugs are beneficial to gardeners, it is essential to learn how to manage them properly in the garden. The University of Florida Extension recommends the following practices:

  • Avoid using pesticides that can harm wheel bugs and other beneficial insects
  • Provide diverse vegetation to promote their natural habitats and predation behavior
  • Be cautious when handling wheel bugs, as their bites can be painful

Pros of Wheel Bugs in Gardens:

  • Help control garden pests
  • Minimze the need for chemical pest control
  • Contribute to a healthy landscape

Cons of Wheel Bugs in Gardens:

  • Can give painful bites if mishandled
  • May fly using their membranous wings, causing discomfort or fear

Example:

In a garden setting where pests like the Mexican bean beetle are affecting plants, the presence of wheel bugs can significantly reduce the beetle population, helping improve crop yield and plant health.

Table: Comparing Wheel Bugs to Other Predatory Insects

Characteristics Wheel Bug Ladybug Lacewing
Size 1-1.5 inches 0.3-0.4 inches 0.75 inches
Color Gray or brownish Red or orange Green
Type of Prey Caterpillars, moths Aphids Aphids
Bite Risk Painful Minimal Minimal

Interesting Facts and Interactions

Unique Features of Wheel Bugs

  • Wheel bugs (Arilus cristatus) are easily recognizable by their cog-like wheel structure on their thorax, with 8-12 teeth/tubercles, making them unique among insects in the US1.
  • These bugs measure around 1 to 1-1/2 inches long, appearing in light gray to grayish-brown colors1.

Comparing Wheel Bugs to Other Insects:

Feature Wheel Bugs Bees
Size 1-1.5 inches 0.4-1 inch
Color Gray Black & Yellow
Unique Structure Cogwheel None
Diet Other insects Nectar & Pollen

Interactions with Other Species

  • As members of the assassin bug family, wheel bugs are voracious predators that feed on other insects like caterpillars, moths, and beetles4, making them beneficial insects for the environment.
  • While being shy in nature, wheel bugs can fly, thus dispersing themselves within various landscapes such as trees and other vegetated areas. This allows them to encounter a diverse range of prey5.

However, wheel bug’s interactions with other species come with some caution:

  • Their bite can be more severe than a bee sting, making it crucial to avoid handling wheel bugs or handle them with care5.
  • As generalist predators, there is a possibility that wheel bugs might also feed on beneficial insects, making their impact on the environment a double-edged sword.

Footnotes

  1. Illinois Extension 2 3 4

  2. NC State Extension Publications

  3. Texas A&M University 2

  4. Texas A&M University

  5. Entomology and Nematology at University of Florida 2

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Wheel Bug

 

Some good Assasin Bug bug photos
I don’t know if you need more photos of this dinosaur looking bug, but it looks like an Assassin Bug (Wheel Bug) I saw on your site. Enjoy. (BTW: I didn’t kill it).
Rhett

Hi Rhett,
This might be our favorite image of a Wheel Bug ever. The forced perspective makes it look enormous. A lower horizon line would make it look like it was about to trample unwary humans trying to flee the behemoth.

Letter 2 – Wheel Bug

 

six leg, flying, single fang insect
October 21, 2009
Hi guys, This insect has been hanging around my house for a few days now 10/21/2009. I live in a suburb of Pittsburgh PA. Current temp is 60 ish. The insect was found clinging to a window screen, it also like painted block walls. The body from tail to the tip of the head is 1.5″ long. It seems to have a single “fang” and it does fly (not very gracefully). Can you tell me what it is?
Jim Holman
Munhall PA

Wheel Bug
Wheel Bug

Nevermind
Jim Holman to bugman
October 21, 2009
Sorry I was so quick on the trigger. I just submitted a request to id an insect or BUG in this case. I did find the insect on your site. I wasn’t sure how to search for it but using the word armored did the trick. I’m refering to the wheel bug. You may keep/use the images I sent if you like them.
Jim Holman
Pittsburgh PA

Wheel Bug
Wheel Bug

Hi Jim,
We are happy to see that you identified your Wheel Bug and sent us a cancellation of the identification request within eleven minutes.  We are posting your letter for two reasons.  First it demonstrates the efficiency of our search engine even without having any knowledge of insects, and we hope our readership makes use of it.  Secondly, your photos are quite good and very illustrative of this large species of Assassin Bug.  This is the only image we have ever received of a Wheel Bug with its wings expanded for flight.  Though Wheel Bugs are not prone to biting humans, they can produce a painful bite with that piercing mouth.

Letter 3 – Wheel Bug

 

Bug in my wife’s mums
Thank you for your site. It has come in handy on multiple occasions. We live in the hills of North Carolina and find all kinds of strange critters up here. As for this photo, I’m curious what kind of bug this is. I haven’t seen one before and it was creeping in my wife’s mums. When I came close it rared back and wielded a nasty looking stinger looking appendage near it’s head. The appendage was red and then black at its tip. When I see red on a critter, I get a bit nervous as it seems like a caution sign to me. What is this bug and is that really a stinger? By the way, the dog hair caught in the bug’s folded wings is from our Alaskan Malamute. My wife had brushed the dog earlier near this flower bed and the bug must have picked it up while folding it’s wings. Oops.
Thank you in advance for the information on this critter!
Kevin Hendrickson

Hi Kevin,
You were very wise to heed the warning. Though Wheel Bugs are advantageous in the garden as they have voracious appetites and will feed on many harmful insects, they will also bite the unwary human and the result is reportedly quite painful, though not serious.

Letter 4 – Wheel Bug

 

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU
I stepped out onto the front porch this afternoon and spotted something I had never seen before. After doing a search on google.com your site was at the top of the list. Sure enough I found the bug that had made a visit to my home. It was the Wheel bug. Despite my neighbor (who once with my aunt spent a whole evening waiting for the death of the male praying mantis after it mated) wanting me to kill the bug I opted not to. He is now perched on the awning of my front porch in a groove. Guess he is looking for some treats since tonight is trick-or-treat. I have a ton of photos of my new found friend. I just don’t think I will try to shake hands with him anytime soon.
Paul J.
Franklin, Ohio

Hi Paul,
We are always happy to hear when people locate us on the web and identify their own mystery critters.

Letter 5 – Wheel Bug

 

Wheelbug
This is an awesome site! My kids and I are fascinated with taking photos of cool bugs we find and we often use your site to help identify. We have this guy right now…Thanks for helping to identify it!
Jennifer, Madison and Harrison (in Pennsylvania)

Hi Jennifer, Madison and Harrison,
We are thrilled that you like the site and that you actually used it for research. Your photo is spectacular.

Letter 6 – Wheel Bug

 

A very strange looking insect
I found a very large bug on outside on the window and I’d like to know if you can tell me what it is. It’s approximately 1- 1 1/2 inches long. I was wondering if it was some kind of large weevil because of the long nose. Thanks for any help you can give. I’ve never seen an insect like it–it’s a little scary looking!
Carrie

Hi Carrie,
We toyed with the idea of making the predatory Wheel Bug, one of the Assassin Bugs, our Bug of the Month for November, but opted for the Boxelder Bug instead.

Letter 7 – Wheel Bug

 

Here’s a Real Stinker!
Hello Bugman,
Found outside in Baltimore Maryland. Yes, it stinks when disturbed. Looks kind of prehistoric. About 1 1/2 inches long. Yes, it can fly. Beautiful deep red iridescent wing color. Can’t find its picture anywhere for ID. Does it look familiar? Thanks!
Brian

Hi Brian,
When we get letters with the word prehistoric in them, it is usually associated with the Dobsonfly or the Wheel Bug. We have more than 20 photos of Wheel Bugs on our site in various places, including Bug Love and Food Chain as well as Assassin Bugs. There is currently an image on our homepage as well. We can’t imagine how you found our site and could not locate the Wheel Bug as we have a search engine. Your photo is very classic.

Letter 8 – Wheel Bug

 

ID Please?
It looks to me like some kind of Weevil, but it’s proboscis is veery long and it’s front legs are almost mantid-like. Any idea? Thanks
Laura

Hi Laura,
Since we got two letters in one day from people who could not identify their Wheel Bugs on our site, it is time to post some new images. Wheel Bugs are predatory Assassin Bugs and can deliver a painful bite to the unwary handler.

Letter 9 – Wheel Bug

 

Assassin bug
With your excellent site, finally identified the fearsome cicada killer wasps swarming our rosemary bushes in Austin, Texas. Great page on assassin bugs, but didn’t see any green specimens…here’s one found in our backyard. Keep up the good work! Thanks!
David

Hi David,
Your Wheel Bug photo is one of the finest we have received this year. This large Assassin Bug generates many queries, and we like to keep an image on the homepage in late summer.

Letter 10 – Wheel Bug

 

unknown bug
This is apparently not a mantid, but I cannot find an image of anything like him. I saw him eating a spider during a recent sunny, very warm day in Ohio. Do you have any ideas? PS: What a most interesting site!
Neil Webner
Columbus, OH

Hi Neil,
This is an adult Wheel Bug since it has wings. Judging by the red color, we are guessing it is freshly metamorphosed. It should darken to charcoal gray or black.

Letter 11 – Wheel Bug

 

Curious?
My father sent me these pictures and asked what sort of bug this is? It looks like a leaf footed bug or a stink bug, but my knowledge of entomology is quite limited. If you know what this bug is, could you let me know?
Thank you,
Ricky Woofter

Hi Ricky,
We know by your follow-up letter that you identified your Wheel Bug. We like your father’s photo so we are posting it.

Letter 12 – Wheel Bug

 

What the?
Hi Bugman. I’ve already looked through your site in search of this bug but didn’t see anything like it. It’s pretty big (at least 1" long, including the legs), and has a "gear" shape on the back of it’s body. It looks like it has wings. It’s been hanging around my front door for a few weeks now. I’ve seen it use that gear thing to flip itself over to get back onto it’s feet. Can you tell me what it is?
Melanie H
West Chester, PA
Moments later: Sorry Bugman! I found it! It’s a wheel bug. Hope you like my pictures!

Hi Melanie,
We are so happy you properly identified your Wheel Bug on our site.

Letter 13 – Wheel Bug

 

Gray Spiky Hooded bug?
Hi there WTB,
we found this strange bug in South Carolina and it was so interesting we had to take it’s mug shot before we let him go on personal recognizance. I’ve googled and searched your site but have turned up nothing – any help? Thanks,
Debi – mom of 3 very curious bug loving boys!

Hi Debi and Boys,
The Wheel Bug is one of the largest of the Assassin Bugs, a group of predatory True Bugs that are welcome in the garden. If carelessly handled, they can deliver a painful bite, but they will not make unprovoked attacks on humans.

Letter 14 – Wheel Bug

 

Obvious question
What’s that bug? I can’t find it in any of my field guides. It has a snout that folds back down under it’s head and neck. It’s very clear in the picture but it might be confused as a leg if you don’t know what it is. We call them Dinosaur Stink Bugs, because they’re not quite the same shape as “regular” stink bugs. (Stinkius Maximus) These insects appear in the late summer/fall at my home in Damascus, MD, just north of Washington, DC Thanks
Alan McIlvried

Hi Alan,
Your bug is an Assassin Bug, not a Stink Bug. It is a Wheel Bug, Arilus cristatus. We will be posting your letter even though the Wheel Bug adults aren’t normally seen in the spring because it will eventually go to our archives, and you have words in your letter that might help others identify their Wheel Bug in a search engine. Dinosaur Stink Bug is a pretty awesome description.

Thanks! My kids will be disappointed that we can’t call it a dinosaur stink bug, but it we call it an assassin bug, it will be almost as cool. Now that I know what words to search for (wheel and assassin, I found some other pictures on your site. I am forwarding your site to several friends who are elementary school teachers. You could spend a whole week with kids cruising around looking at bugs. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us.

Letter 15 – Wheel Bug

 

Assassin Bug (Wheel Bug)
This Assassin Bug (Wheel Bug) landed on my Son-In-Law’s finger while we were sitting in our parked car with the windows open. The location was Ligonier Pennsylvania (about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh — southwest PA). Thank-you for your excellent website which allowed us to learn much more about this interesting "Bug". Apparently we were lucky that the bug did not decide to sting, since the sting can be quite painful as I learned from your web site. Thanks again for all the superb reference information on the Insect World.
Emerson Ray
Pittsburgh, PA

Hi Emerson,
Thanks so much for adding to our archive with this great Wheel Bug photograph.

Letter 16 – Wheel Bug

 

Wheel Bug Pics
Hi there,
My husband discovered this Wheel Bug on our front porch railing. I snapped some pics & was able to identify it thanks to your site. We wondered why our cat wouldn’t go after it since he LOVES to play with bugs before he eats them. I learned about the scent they give off, so I’m guessing that’s why the cat left him alone. I’m including several pics. Use any or all of them, if you want. Thanks for the site. I’m a former science teacher & plan to return to the classroom soon. Your site will be a great asset!
Darla Hailey
McMinnville, TN

Hi Darla,
The current photo of a Wheel Bug on our homepage is in need of replacement, and your photo will do nicely.

Letter 17 – Wheel Bug

 

Mr. Spikes
Hello.
Pray tell, who is this wise old creature of yore? I have seen a few of them wandering about outside. They seem to take on a few characteristics of the Brochymenas , Tree Stink Bugs. Could be a relative? Quite intelligent.. moreso then their cousins. They are about 2-3 inches and stand 1-2 inches tall. By the looks of it they seem to be predatory. Any information would be helpful. Thank you so much.
Megan R. Pritchard

Hi Megan,
We meant to post your letter and photo the day we received it, but we ran out of time. We just remembered it today. This is a Wheel Bug, one of the predatory Assassin Bugs.

Letter 18 – Wheel Bug

 

What the heck is this! Inbox
Fly into my yard,about 2 inches long.
Julie.
Northern Louisiana.

Hi Julie,
This predatory Assassin Bug is known as the Wheel Bug.

Letter 19 – Wheel Bug

 


Could you please identify this bug for me. A friend of mine was bitten or stung by it and it caused his finger to blister and swell. I would also appreciate any info you could provide also. We live in north central Tennessee. Thank you,
Sue

Hi Sue,
This is the first photo of an adult Wheel Bug we have received this year, though each summer we get numerous excellent submissions. Those can be located on our Assassin Bug pages. We have received immature nymph photos this year, including one report, that we were too busy to post, that lists the Wheel Bug as predatory on Japanese Beetles. Like all Assassin Bugs, Wheel Bugs can deliver a painful bite if mishandled. The Wheel Bug is an important beneficial predatory species.

Letter 20 – Wheel Bug

 

Assasin beetle pics
I think this is a Wheel Bug. Your site rocks! THANK YOU! Animals in general are awe inspiring. Arthropods are especially interesting. Enjoy!
neanderpaul

Dear Neanderpaul,
Yes, this is a Wheel Bug. As a point of clarification, Wheel Bugs are Assassin Bugs, but they are not beetles. True Bugs have incomplete metamorphosis where nymphs look like adults, and beetles have a complete, four stage metamorphosis.

Letter 21 – Wheel Bug

 

Did You See?
Greetings:
Won’t bug you again with this, (pun intended) but a while back I sent in a pic of a Wheel Bug that landed on the mirror of my 18 wheeler and was giving me the stink-eye as I took his (her?) picture. Anyway, I have been looking on your website and I just don’t think there is a better image of one up close and personal. Maybe I am biased, but I think it’s a cool image, the way he’s looking at the camera. Well, I just thought you may have missed it in the pile of images you receive every day. So, here it is one more time and if it doesn’t get posted I will figure my idea of a decent shot might not be as good as I thought it was. Either way, happy trails
Dave

Hi Dave,
We generally post lateral views of Wheel Bugs so that the distinctive wheel or cog on the thorax is plainly visible. A dorsal view does not accentuate this distinguishing feature. In making that decision in the past, we realize that dorsal views of Wheel Bugs are noticeably absent on our site, and your photo fills a void. As far as choosing who has the best Wheel Bug photo, we don’t really want to go there because we have no desire to pit our readership against one another.

Letter 22 – Wheel Bug

 

Nature’s can-opener?
Fri, Oct 10, 2008 at 5:23 PM
Greetings!
This creature found me in Morgantown, Pennsylvania, USA. He (or she) is about 1.5 inches long. He was pretty slow moving on the 70-degree-F day that I found him. He had very little interest in flying away or using his bayonet-like member on his forehead against me. I picked him up using a piece of bark and moved him away from the front door, where he is less likely to get tangled up with my 9-week-old boxer puppy who runs around the house and yard like PacMan, gobbling up anything and everything.
Thanks for your help!
Greg
South-Eastern Pennsylvania, USA

Wheel Bug
Wheel Bug

Hi Greg,
We love your subject line. We didn’t even have to view your photo to know you had a Wheel Bug. Observing that a Wheel Bug resembles a can opener is awesome.  Wheel Bugs are Assassin Bugs and they will bite if provoked.

Letter 23 – Wheel Bug

 

Assassin Bug?
Mon, Oct 13, 2008 at 4:46 PM
Hi Bug Guy, I just want you to know that I never really cared alot about bugs, Then I got a new camera for my birthday, and I loved it, I was having so much fun with it, but now I have a new like, not love yet, just like, for the bugs, some of them are so beautiful and some, I think God had alot of fun making. This bug was on my dads porch and I looked it up on here and I found one. The bug liked my husbands ear and kept crawling up his shirt to his ear. He sat very still and did not bother it and waited for it to leave. Later someone told me that if the bug had bit him that he would have gotten really sick and maybe even lost his ear. Is this true? I have sent a pic of him or her.
Soon to learn to love bugs,
Lisa Benningfield, Stanton Ky
Eastern Kentucky

Wheel Bug gets familiar
Wheel Bug gets familiar

Hi Lisa,
The bite of a Wheel Bug, a species of Assassin Bug, is reported to be quite painful but not really dangerous.  Like many bites, swelling, redness and pain or itchiness may occur, but loss of an ear is not really a side effect.  Your husband should, nonetheless, consider himself lucky he was not bitten.

Letter 24 – Wheel Bug

 

Wheel Bug up close
Mon, Nov 3, 2008 at 12:27 PM
I came across this Wheel Bug recently. I had never seen one before and didn’t have a clue as to what it was. Fortunately for me, I kept a slight distance and managed to get some great & painless photos. The little guy was actually very cooperative. I later researched it online and discovered its identity — what a fascinating little creature. Anyway… I love your site and wanted to submit one of the many photos I captured.
Dave Elmore
Roanoke, Virginia

Wheel Bug
Wheel Bug

Hi Dave,
Thanks for sending a photo of your Wheel Bug, our Bug of the Month for November 2008, to add to our archive.  Your photo is stunning and dramatic and shows the piercing/sucking mouth parts and cog-like crest to great advantage.  Wheel Bugs are not aggressive to humans, but they should not be mishandled or a painful bite may result.

Letter 25 – Wheel Bug

 

Wheel Bug!
Tue, Nov 4, 2008 at 3:50 PM
I found this enormous bug on my screen door today, captured it, photographed it, and released it. Then I can to whatsthatbug.com as usual to find out what it was. Turns out its on the top of the main page as Bug of the Month! The person who submitted it, lives just minutes away too! Quite the cooincidence.
Anyways, I took some fantastic photographs of it…and figured since it is bug of the month, you may be able to use them. I also captured a small video of him cruising around on my desk which can be seen here: http://www.goochball.com/ images/bug.wmv
Thanks.
Dan Bowen
Pittsburgh, PA

Wheel Bug
Wheel Bug

Hi Dan,
Your head on view of a Wheel Bug is a nice addition to our archive.

Letter 26 – Wheel Bug

 

Arilus cristatus
Wed, Nov 5, 2008 at 1:52 PM
Good Evening!
A friend called me to my front door earlier. She was on the front porch; I was here at the computer. “Bet you’ve never seen this one before,” she said. She was right. Then, after downloading several shots of the creature, imagine my surprise when I found that it is your BUG OF THE MONTH! No searching through hundreds of pages this time! Thank you, too, for the link to The BugGuide. We both appreciated all the information found there.
As long as it stays outside…
R.G. Marion
Great Smoky Mountains
East Tennessee

Wheel Bug
Wheel Bug

Hi again R.G.,
We always try to select a Bug of the Month based on what we believe our readership will encounter, and sometimes we err. There are months when not a single letter comes in to substantiate our speculation, but this month we chose wisely. We have gotten numerous additional letters of Wheel Bugs, some posted, some not, and we are happy to post your letter and photo.

Letter 27 – Wheel Bug

 

Unknown Bug
Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 2:25 PM
I saw this bug on top of an aircraft wing and took this picture. I scooped it up on some paper and was looking at it. It had a very long neck with eyes on the end. After some fun, I took it to an open doorway to set it free – only to discover that it had wings hidden along its back. The bug took off and scared the breath out of me! I have some additional pics that I will locate and send… The bug is about 3 inches long
Just Wondering
Saint Louis

Wheel Bug
Wheel Bug

Dear Just Wondering,
We are guessing that this Wheel Bug is not a recent sighting.  Wheel Bugs are large Assassin Bugs and they are predators.  All of our information indicates that while they are not aggressive, the bite of a Wheel Bug is quite painful, so they should be handled with care.

Letter 28 – Wheel Bug

 

I finnally got a chance to see one in REAL LIFE!
August 13, 2009
I never thought I’d ever actually get the chance to see a wheel bug, but I finally did get my chance! How Cool! They are smaller than I pictured. I was in Lake Ozark, MO. THEY WERE EVERYWHERE, ( including on the inside of some muscle-mans shirt. ) ( he freaked out and killed one! I wasn’t happy about that, but my mouth is too big for CPR! ; P
Sherri
Lake Ozark, MO

Wheel Bug
Wheel Bug

Hi Sherri,
We are thrilled to hear that a Wheel Bug sighting made such a big impression on you.  Your muscle man story reminds us of the old header we had on our Unnecessary Carnage page when we used Dreamweaver to post information to our website, prior to our site migration.  We are working with our web master to get this introduction as a header on the Unnecessary Carnage page once again.  Here it is.
Insects are prone to unnecessary slaughter, be it from an overzealous homemaker who doesn’t want to see bugs, or from a strapping he-man who is a closet arachnophobe, or from a youngster who likes to torture. At any rate, we get a goodly amount of photos of poor arthropods whose lives ended prematurely. In an effort to educate, we present Unnecessary Carnage. This page is not intended for the squeamish.

Letter 29 – Wheel Bug

 

Slow Moving, Non-Flying Bug at Hummingbird Feeder
August 14, 2009
Hi! Thanks so much for this site! It’s fabulous!
This insect appeared at a hummingbird feeder and seems to have a probiscus. It was challenged by a hummingbird whilst at the feeding station and lifted up its two front arms but tucked its head and probiscus under. It appears very gentle, moves VERY slowly and likes to drink sugar water. When not feeding, it perches on the top of the feeder, hanging off the sides. It doesn’t seem to mind direct sunlight. It also appears to have bilateral eyes at the tip of an eye stalk. The probiscus curls under, like an elephant trunk. What on earth is this?
Curious Patricia
Bowling Green, OH (NW Ohio)

Wheel Bug
Wheel Bug

Dear Curious Patricia,
We love your backlit photo of a Wheel Bug.

Letter 30 – Wheel Bug

 

Insect With Gold Wing Tips
October 4, 2009
I was hiking around Sugarloaf Mountain with some friends when we spotted this odd insect. I looked around trying to identify it, but couldn’t find anything so I thought I’d ask.
Brian B
Sugarloaf Mountain, MD

Wheel Bug
Wheel Bug

Hi Brian,
This is a Wheel Bug.  Not all Wheel Bugs exhibit this coloration, and it may just be the way the light is reflecting on the wing membranes.

Letter 31 – Wheel Bug

 

“Wheelbarrow Bug”
November 2, 2009
This is a bug I see about once a year, although it’s probably common. My parents’ generation calls it a “wheelbarrow” bug because of the wheel-like appendage on it’s back. But, I’d like to know what it’s real name is. My aunt said it was odd to see one this late in the year, but we haven’t had a freeze yet. This bug was crawling on the swing, and it would watch me as I tried to get in close to photograph it, and turn to face me. It was not a fast-moving creature (as bugs go). It’s most unusual feature is the thin gear- or wheel-like appendage on the creature’s back that is visible when viewed from the side. It is grey and black in color, and about 3.5 cm in length.
Michael Wilson
Carter County, Oklahoma, USA

Wheel Bug
Wheel Bug

Hi Michael,
Though we have not heard the common name Wheelbarrow Bug, we like it.  The common name for this large Assassin Bug, Arulus cristatus, is Wheel Bug.  Since it only has one “wheel” like a wheelbarrow, we find your name to be most appropriate.
Like other Assassin Bugs, Wheel Bugs might bite if carelessly handled.

Letter 32 – Wheel Bug

 

long-legged bug with shield-like armor on its back
November 6, 2009
I saw this bug in November of 2009. It was on my front porch. The closest description I can give is that it looked like a grasshopper only with flat wings instead of vertical wings. The shield-like “armor” on its back raised up about 1/4 inch from the body and appeared to have “fake” eyes on the lower front. Its head extended forward in an elongated fashion from the main body with long antennae. Pictures are included from the top, bottom and side.
R Morana
Northwest TN. near Kentucky Lake

Wheel Bug
Wheel Bug

Dear R,
This is North America’s largest predatory Assassin Bug, the Wheel Bug.

Letter 33 – Wheel Bug

 

Whats this strange bug
November 12, 2009
its chilly right now in IL and 3 others near me have found these bugs so i am curious what they are
doesnt matter
Central Illinois US

Wheel Bug
Wheel Bug

Dear doesnt matter,
This beauty is North America’s largest predatory Assassin Bug, the Wheel Bug.

Letter 34 – Wheel Bug

 

Insect with dragon heckles
February 9, 2010
Found dead on top of a box in my garage in Missouri in October (begin of fall). Has small head with what looks like a slender thorn coming from its mouth. Body looks like a piece of a stick cut on a diagonal. Has what looks like a stinger on it’s butt and the scariest part is the dragon heckle on it’s back.
suppies
Missouri in the fall (October)

Wheel Bug

Dear suppies,
This is a Wheel Bug and it is the largest North American Assassin Bug.  The Wheel Bug is a predator that uses its mouth to pierce its prey and then suck the fluids from its body.  It is capable of biting a person if it is carelessly handled, but it has no stinger.

Letter 35 – Wheel Bug

 

Please identify this insect
May 22, 2010
Insect was photographed along a stream in the eastern Ozarks of Missouri crawling on a mushroom or other fungus.
Emery Styron
eastern Missouri

Wheel Bug

Hi Emery,
This is a Wheel Bug, the largest Assassin Bug in North America.

Letter 36 – Wheel Bug

 

Frilled head probiscus and fangs?
Location:  West Texas
August 6, 2010 9:09 am
I photographed this bug on the giant Texas reeds in my backyard. I live in West Texas – temps have been in the low 100s for about a week. I pay a lot of attention to the insects and spiders in my yard, but have never seen anything like this.
When I first saw it, I would have sworn it was a spider based on its size and the way it moved, but on closer inspection, only 6 legs were visible. The head is noticeably frilled along a crest that ran from front to back on the head. There’s also an apparent proboscis with what appears to be reddish fangs tucked under the snout. The antennae are also reddish while the overall color of the bug is in shades of grey and black.
DeeJay

Wheel Bug

Hi Will,
We have numerous images of Wheel Bugs in our archives, but we haven’t posted a photograph of an adult Wheel Bug in some time, so your nice photograph will remedy that.

Thanks so much for responding so quickly!  I hope it’s still out there so I can call it by name. 😀

Letter 37 – Wheel Bug

 

Interesting bug!
Location:  Central Indiana
October 10, 2010 11:00 pm
This bug showed up at my son’s birthday party and was quite the hit! The kids thought it looked like a bug that belonged with dinosaurs!! lol Body length was approx 2”. Found in central Indiana; an especially warm day in early Oct (and we have had record breaking DRY weather here for months). Thank you very much!! 🙂
Signature:  Ruth

Wheel Bug

Dear Ruth,
Interesting, the words prehistoric and dinosaur, and more specifically Stegosaurus are often used to describe the Wheel Bug, the largest Assassin Bug in North America.

Letter 38 – Wheel Bug

 

Ancient looking bug
Location:  Branson, MO
October 13, 2010 7:23 pm
Hi Daniel,
My folks took this picture of a very cool bug while vacationing in Branson MO. I tried to find it on your site but was not able to.
I am not sure of the size of it either, unfortunately.
The picture was taken in September of this year.
Signature:  Mike Healy

Ed. Note:  29 Minutes Later
Hey Daniel,
I just logged on and took a quick look at the top ten and low and behold, there was the bug that I could not find when I was looking for it. I was looking the wrong family entirely. I was thinking that it was some sort of weevil. Clearly a Wheel Bug is not a weevil.
Have a great holiday season with your family.
Mike Healy

Wheel Bug

Hi Mike,
We are so happy you were able to find your Wheel Bug identified in our archives.  We wish more people would check out our Top 10.

Letter 39 – Wheel Bug

 

Subject:  It looks like a dinosaur
Geographic location of the bug:  Washington, IL
Date: 09/25/2018
Time: 03:37 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Found this on a plant on my porch. It seemed like a praying mantis from far, with lanky legs. But on closer look, it had this strange hump on it’s back, like armor plated look. It’s body was very wide though, with interesting markings on the wings.
How you want your letter signed:  J

Wheel Bug

Dear J,
Congratulations on your first Wheel Bug sighting.  You are not the first person to describe it as looking like a dinosaur.

Letter 40 – Wheel Bug

 

Subject:  Bug in TN
Geographic location of the bug:  Nashville TN
Date: 10/29/2018
Time: 05:22 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  What is this thing?? It’s huge!
How you want your letter signed:  Melissa

Wheel Bug

Dear Melissa,
This is a predatory Wheel Bug, the largest Assassin Bug in North America.

Letter 41 – Wheel Bug

 

Subject:  unusual bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Charleston, SC
Date: 12/11/2018
Time: 08:06 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  My daughter sent me this picture asking what it was. I’ve never seen anything like it.
How you want your letter signed:  jim

Wheel Bug

Dear Jim,
This is a predatory Wheel Bug, the largest Assassin Bug in North America.  Though we rarely get reports of Wheel Bugs biting people, they should nonetheless be handled with caution as they might deliver a painful bite if carelessly handled.  Wheel Bugs are relatively common in eastern North America.

Wow. That’s quite a beast. Thanks for identifying it.

Letter 42 – Wheel Bug

 

Subject:  Mr. Belvedere
Geographic location of the bug:  Southport, North Carolina
Date: 06/26/2019
Time: 08:12 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Came to work and saw these guys hanging out on my door.  What’s that bug?!
How you want your letter signed:  However

Wheel Bug

This is a predatory Wheel Bug.

Letter 43 – Wheel Bug

 

Subject:  Strange looking bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Holden Beach, NC
Date: 07/10/2019
Time: 10:59 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This bug appeared on our door. It’s quite different and I can’t tell if it’s in the Mantid or the Grasshopper family. Maybe neither! I’m hoping you will tell me.
How you want your letter signed:  Ronald

Wheel Bug

Dear Ronald,
This is neither a Mantid nor a Grasshopper.  It is a predatory Assassin Bug known as a Wheel Bug.  Your image beautifully illustrates the cog-like projection on the thorax that explains the common name.  Like other Assassin Bugs, Wheel Bugs might bite if carelessly handled.  They have a proboscis designed to suck fluids from their prey, and a puncture to the skin from that proboscis is likely quite painful.

Letter 44 – Wheel Bug

 

Subject:  Large leaf bug?
Geographic location of the bug:  Quincy, Il
Date: 07/19/2019
Time: 08:57 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  We found this “little” guy climbing on us and he was very content to climb around instead of flying. Can you tell what he is?
How you want your letter signed:  Curious in Quincy

Wheel Bug

Dear Curious in Quincy,
This magnificent predator is a Wheel Bug, and like many other members of the family, it is fully capable of biting.  The bite of a Wheel Bug is not considered dangerous, but it might be painful, so you should handle Wheel Bugs with caution in the future.

Letter 45 – Wheel Bug

 

Subject:  Bug ID
Geographic location of the bug:  Noblesville Indiana
Date: 08/02/2019
Time: 11:00 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  It sure looked mean. The body might have been 5/8″ long.
How you want your letter signed:  Jeff

Wheel Bug

Dear Jeff,
Like other Assassin Bugs, the predatory Wheel Bug is quite capable of biting a human, however, unlike several other Assassin Bugs including those in genus
Zelus, the Sycamore Assassin Bugs and the infamous Kissing Bugs, we almost never get reports of bites from Wheel Bugs.  We have several awesome images of Wheel Bugs on our site, and your image is one of the best.

Letter 46 – Wheel Bug

 

Subject:  Unidentified insect
Geographic location of the bug:  Hotchkiss, CO USA
Date: 08/22/2019
Time: 06:37 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  What is it?
How you want your letter signed:  Agustin

Wheel Bug

Dear Agustin,
This is a Wheel Bug, and we did not realize they ranged as far west as Colorado, but BugGuide data also reports them in Arizona.

Letter 47 – Wheel Bug

 

Subject:  Wheel Bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Rutherford County, Middle Tennessee
Date: 10/02/2019
Time: 08:41 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This year marks my first signing of a living wheel bug, which is very exciting!! Unfortunately, I’ve also found more dead wheel bugs than I’ve seen in my entire life. Do you know if they naturally die after mating/laying eggs or if perhaps the unusual heat is getting them? I’ve been finding them upside down on sidewalks, so I figure they could be overheating there.
How you want your letter signed:  Josie

Wheel Bug

Dear Josie,
Thanks for sending in your image of a Wheel Bug.  Wheel Bugs only survive for one season, and most are probably killed by the first major frost of the year.  We don’t know why you are finding so many dead Wheel Bugs at this time.  We do not believe the heat is a factor.

Letter 48 – Wheel Bug

 

Subject:  Unknown insect
Geographic location of the bug:  Harrisonburg, VA
Date: 11/07/2019
Time: 02:56 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This creepy crawler landed on my son-in-law while we were at the winery. It was so interesting I snapped a photo. But! I can’t figure out what it is.
How you want your letter signed:  Paula

Wheel Bug

Dear Paula,
Your son-in-law encountered a Wheel Bug, the largest, predatory Assassin Bug in North America.  Though many Assassin Bugs will bite if provoked or if they feel threatened, and though the bite might be painful, Wheel Bugs are reluctant to bite humans and the bite is not considered dangerous.

Letter 49 – Wheel Bug

 

Subject:  Alien!
Geographic location of the bug:  N.Carolina
Date: 01/18/2020
Time: 01:36 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Bugman I found this Alien on my porch & it looks like a Godzilla  foe…what is it?
How you want your letter signed:  Dustin

Wheel Bug

Dear Dustin,
Your “alien” is a Wheel Bug, the largest North American Assassin Bug and quite a formidable predator.

Letter 50 – Wheel Bug

 

Subject:  Strange Large Grey Bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Kansas City Missouri
Date: 10/12/2021
Time: 06:08 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hello.  I am 43 and have lived in this area my whole life.  I saw a strange bug the other day twice in the same day that I never saw before or after.  1st sighting was at my home the next 25 miles north.  It was very large and could still fly with no immediately visible wings.  It looked like there was a red hook for its nose/snout.  It was very similar to the pictured wheelbug but not the same an no wheel on its back
How you want your letter signed:  Thanks, Ken Davis

Wheel Bug

Dear Ken,
This beauty is a predatory Wheel Bug, our featured Bug of the Month for October here and here.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts

8 thoughts on “Do Wheel Bugs Fly? Uncovering the Truth about These Intriguing Insects”

  1. Thus far I have only seen one of these guys in my life, and it scared the bejeezus out of me! I was sitting on the sidewalk on a warm sunny day taking a break from work and the thing ran at me, looking very dinosaur-like as they do. I prodded it a bit with my pencil to try to convince it to go away, which made it rear up and charge me again. I tucked my tail and ran, of course. They seem to be rather charming little guys when they aren’t trying to kill you, though.

    Reply
  2. I saw, well, actually, had one in my truck yesterday! October 5, 2016, a very warm day in early October. I have never seen this bug before in my 54 years. I noticed it crawling on my steering column while I was driving. Needless to say, it freaked me out! Then it fell off and landed somewhere either on me or on the floor. I immediately pulled over, when it was safe, and got out of my truck, found him, and set him free. Freaky!!!

    Reply

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