BIG CYPRESS WMA, FL
This is a photograph of an Assassin or Wheel Bug nymph taken along side of the L-28 levee off Alligator Alley (I-75) in Florida. Camera gear used for this subject was a Nikon D90 body and a Nikkor 60mm 2.8 lens with a macro ring for enhanced lighting. This part of the L-28 levee ran through the Big Cypress National Wildlife Preserve and is an excellent place for photographing insects, birds, and animals.
The wheel bug, (Arilus cristatus), is a fairly common, widely distributed, beneficial assassin bug that preys on man’s pest insects. However, getting bitten by one usually is more severe and painful than a bee sting. Both nymphs and adult assassin bugs should be avoided or handled with extreme caution.
The assassin or wheel bug adult usually measures from 1 to 1.25 inches long. This assassin bug is a dark robust, rather grotesque creature having long legs and antennae, a stout beak, large eyes on a slim head, and a prominent thoracic, semicircular crest suggesting a cogwheel or chicken’s comb. This is the only insect species in the United States with such a crest. The number of teeth (tubercles) in the crest varies from eight to 12. Females of this species are longer and wider than males, with the abdominal margins being more widely exposed in the females.
The saliva of the Assassin or Wheel bug contains a toxic, paralytic substance that immobilizes and kills its victims usually within 15 to 30 sec after injection. Immatures of the locust leafminer, Xenochalepus dorsalis (Thunberg), are killed and fed upon while still imbedded in leaf tissue. Arilus cristatus is an especially valuable predator in forest and shade trees because it preys on the well-protected hairy caterpillars that are defoliators.