Wheel Bugs are interesting looking insects that are a beneficial predator in the garden. Arilus cristatus, for you science nerds, gets its common name from the prominent crest on the backside of the thorax and head. This crest is the identifying feature for this bug since it is the only bug in Florida that has it. The body color is grey to brown. Females are larger than males. It has long legs and long antennae.
Early nymphs look completely different. They are red to bright orange with black markings and do not develop the crest until their adult life form. Due to that difference in color, nymphs may be confused with other insects. Older nymphs begin to change to the grey color prior to developing the crest.
So why is the wheel bug a gardening friend? Like assassin bugs, wheel bugs feast on other insects and their appetite is strong. Let's take a look at the diet of both nymph and adult wheel bugs.
Caterpillars. Unfortunately they do no discriminate between attractive and destructive caterpillars of butterflies and moths. But, the University of Florida Entomology and Nematology list the order of Noctuidae as one they prefer. This is good news to gardeners since this order includes Armyworms and Cutworms. They are documented to be important in controlling caterpillars that are major defoliators.
Beetles of the order Coleoptera which include several different beetles and weevils. Some of these are plant damaging beetles. Unfortunately though, this does include ladybeetles which are a gardening friend due to their own appetite for garden pests.
Wasp and Bee larvae. These are obviously not the preferred insects that gardeners want wheel bugs to eat.
Other insects that become opportunities as prey
As you can tell, there are several gardening pests that wheel bugs eat. Allowing wheel bugs to be a part of the garden's ecosystem is free pest control.
If you encounter wheel bugs in the garden, they should be left alone and never handled. Bites from this bug are known to be painful to humans and animals comparably to a wasp sting. The skin around the bite can become red and even infected if not properly treated.
Do you have any thoughts about wheel bugs in the garden? If so, comment below to keep the conversation going!