The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Hey Geek, what’s this? It bites!

I received an email last week, originally written by Jim:

Can either of you identify the bug in the attached picture?  This is
more a matter of curiosity than concern.  Our daughter learned in her
computer search that there might be some spiders with six legs…?    The
8-leg requirement for spiders was given as a good rule of thumb.
Trent got bit by this bug/spider today.  Any idea????

Jim’s message had first been sent to his friends, Rich and Dianne. Dianne passed the message on to me, having clearly already done some of the leg work by recognizing that the critter in question was not a spider (more on this in a moment) and figuring out the correct insect suborder:

Dear Bug Geek,
Do you know what kind of “True Bug” this is ?  Found in Pittsburgh area.  Many thanks.
Here’s the photo of the little nipper that accompanied Jim’s message:

Photo by Jim (used with permission).

It does sort of have the gestalt of a spider – a chunky body and spindly legs. The coloration is a bit alarming, too; with spiders on the brain, it would be easy to start thinking about things like this:

Photo by Wikipedia user Chepyle, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

You’ll note, though, that there are only six legs on the Trent-biter, not eight. The only time a spider will have less than eight legs is if it’s had some sort of unfortunate mishap, like a run-in with a predator or a developmental (molting) problem.  It is an insect, and Dianne’s assessment of it being a True Bug was correct.

Do you recognize it?

Hint: it’s a baby 🙂

It might be hard to imagine, but that cute little red and black bug nymph will eventually become an adult of the largest assassin bug species in our area:

Wheel bug! The only time I’ve ever encountered these was at BugShot in Missouri last year. I was amazed by the “wheel” structure on the thorax, and went to pick one up, but was quickly stopped by more savy folks who warned me about the painful bites (stabs, really – their mouthparts are tube-like proboscises) these insects are known to inflict.

Poor Trent!

Here’s a *ahem* busy pair of adults I found last year (thanks for the great excuse to pull out an old unused photo, Dianne and Jim!)

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2 responses to “Hey Geek, what’s this? It bites!

  1. ROAS June 27, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    Thanks for the great info!

  2. jayfitzsimmons June 27, 2012 at 9:31 PM

    Beautiful picture! There are just a few species of wheel bug out there. Arilus cristatus is the only one that comes up ask the way to Canada.

    I published a short note about Arilus gallus mating behaviour a couple years ago. My girlfriend (now wife) and I saw a pair mating while on vacation in Costa Rica. Many hours we watched them. Many. She still married me. I’m a lucky guy.

    If I’d known about your photo we could’ve gotten together and included comparison of Arilus cristatus and A. gallus mating behaviour.

    Article link (paywall):
    http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.3157/021.121.0314

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