We have a new visitor in the garden this summer — the wheel bug (Arilus cristatus). It’s the kind of bug that makes my 8-year-old son exclaim “Cool! Look at that bug!” The wheel bug is one member of a large family (Reduviidae) called assassin bugs because they prey on other insects. The wheel bug in particular makes a meal out of caterpillars, moths and other soft-bodied insects. I’ve even read that it will prey on Japanese beetles, which are in no short supply this time of year.
The 1-1/2 inch wheel bug has a long proboscis or beak that it uses to puncture the skin to suck out the body juices of its prey. Despite its horror-movie appearance and modus operandi, the wheel bug is a beneficial insect as it helps control many food crop and garden pests.
I’ve seen two assassin bugs so far, the first of which ended up like this on the screen of our gazebo. At first I thought it had been eaten by a bird, but learned that this was the result of molting. A wheel bug will go through five phases of molting before it reaches adulthood.
The second wheel bug that appeared today is still considered a nymph. I say second, but it could be the next stage of the one that molted yesterday. The final adult stage of this Arilis will eventually appear with a wheel-like dorsal crest on the thorax, thus living up to its wheel bug moniker.
I’m at a loss to why the wheel bug has chosen our garden this year, but I’m happy to serve up the finest in garden pest cuisine if it chooses to stay for dinner.