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Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Wheel Bug



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Image Credit: Rob W.
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Image Credit: Shari K from Fort Wayne, IN
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Image Credit: Lucas and Jennifer O. in IN
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Image Credit: Anne D. from Louisiana
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Image Credit: Sue S., Taylorsville, KY
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Image Credit: Frank H. from Osage Beach, FL
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Image Credit: Jim S. from State College, PA
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Image Credit: Benjamin C. from Fort Wayne, IN
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Image Credit: Joe R. from Loretto, TN
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Image Credit: Vicki S., taken at Flat Top Mountain near Chattanooga, TN
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Image Credit: Diana R. from Bucks County, PA
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The ridge-backed Wheel Bug is a stealthy assassin with a fang that even humans would be wise to avoid.



Updated: 07/15/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
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 other insects using a series of vicious stabbing motions with the 'fang' at the front of its head. This is the same fang that painfully stabs people who handle it or disturb it.

The Wheel Bug is best identified by the ridged, or spiny, wheel on its pronotum (back). Adults are a dusty gray color that may be pale enough to look white. The narrow head has two large black eyes on either side. The long, dark fang tucks in under the face. Antennae are red-orange. 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. These small red and black larvae molt many times before growing to adult size and developing the 'wheel' on their backs. The fang is present even at this early stage of life.

The Wheel Bug operates primarily from summer into fall and feeds on other insects including slow-moving caterpillars. Its diet forces the Wheel Bug to reside primarily in leafy areas like forests, parks, or shrubbery. Look for them hiding among the dense foliage of plants.




Known Diet of the Wheel-Bug



other insects, especially bees and caterpillars


General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Spiny / Spiky insect icon


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Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Hemiptera
        Family: Reduviidae
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          Genus: Arilus
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            Species: cristatus
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Arilus cristatus
Category: True Bug
Size (Adult; Length): 28mm to 36mm (1.10" to 1.41")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: brown; gray; blue; red; black
Descriptors: spiky back, wheel, saw, fuzzy, arched back, fang, flying
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Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 28mm (1.1in) and 36mm (1.4in)
Lo: 28mm
Md: 32mm
Hi: 36mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Wheel Bug may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Wheel Bug. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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