Insect Identification
Insect Identification

Wheel Bug - (Arilus cristatus)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 8/13/2014

The Wheel Bug is a stealthy assassin with a fang even humans would be wise to avoid.

This large insect is well-noted for its incredibly painful bite when disturbed or nonchalantly handled. A member of the Assassin Bug family, the Wheel Bug attacks its prey (other insects) with vicious stabbing motions using the 'fang' at the front of its head. This is the same fang that painfully stabs humans who handle it or disturb it.

The Wheel Bug is best identified by the ridged, or spiny, wheel on its pronotum (back), which gives the insect its name. The Wheel Bug operates primarily from summer into fall and feeds on other insects including any slow-moving caterpillars. Its diet forces the Wheel Bug to reside primarily in leafy areas like forests, parks or shrubbery.

Females lay eggs on twigs and branches in clusters that almost resemble a honeycomb shape. Tiny larvae hatch and look completely different from their adult form (see photos). These small red and black larvae will molt many times before growing to adult size and developing the 'wheel' on their backs.

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Category: True Bug
Common name: Wheel Bug
Scientific Name: Arilus cristatus

  Kingdom: Animalia
   Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
     Order: Hemiptera
      Family: Reduviidae
       Genus: Arilus
        Species: cristatus

Adult Size (Length): 28mm to 36mm (1.10in to 1.42in)

Identifying Colors: brown; gray; blue; red; black

Additional Descriptors: spiky back, wheel, saw, fuzzy, arched back, fang, flying

North American Reach (Though Not Limited To*): Alabama; Arkansas; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi; Missouri; Nebraska; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; North Carolina; North Dakota; Ohio; Oklahoma; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; South Carolina; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; Utah; Vermont; Virginia; West Virginia; Wisconsin; Ontario; Quebec; Mexico

* Keep in mind that insect reach is not governed by lines on a map and therefore may appear in areas/regions/states beyond those listed above.