The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Category Archives: Hemiptera (Bugs, Hoppers, Aphids and allies)

Hey Geek, what’s this? An ant that’s not…

This mystery was passed on to me from a friend in Texas, who fields the “what’s this bug?”-type inquiries that are sent to his place of employment.  The email subject line was: “Challenging ID“, and this message and lovely photograph from Kimberley were attached:

I was hoping you could help me identify what type of ant this is. I have seen a few on the black eyed peas in my garden, they are always alone. I would estimate they are about 1/2 inch long, maybe a little bigger

Photo by Kimberly Hill

Now, my friend already knew the answer. “Here is a tough one,” he said. I considered this to be a fun little test from my respected colleague, so I was all,

The first thing I found myself doing was counting “stuff” at the head end of this critter. I was reminded of the time we took our three-legged dog to a friend’s bbq, and caught another guest staring at our pooch from across the yard with a perplexed look on her face, saying aloud, “Oooone….twooooo…three.  One…two…three?”

Similarly, I count three dangly bits hanging off this insect’s face – two antennae and … a proboscis. Last time I checked, ants did not have sucking mouthparts,


This is not an ant at all; the mouthparts are a dead giveaway for something in the Hemiptera. Since it doesn’t have fully developed wings, it must be a juvenile, or nymph.

Putting all the pieces together:

  • ant mimic
  • pretty distinctive colouration and shape
  • true bug
  • nymph
  • found on a legume plant
  • a Texas locality

I’ve been able to come up with what I think is a pretty good guess of this critter’s identity:

the Texas Bow-legged Bug (Hyalymenus tarsatus).

This insect looks remarkably different as a juvenile than as an adult (see some images here) and the juveniles show a wonderful range of coloration. The only species in the genus found in Texas, these insects are known to feed on legumes and other plants with seed pods, like milkweeds.

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!)

Hey, Geek, what’s this? A two-bug mystery…

Every now and then I get emails or tweets from people asking me to help them identify an insect they’ve found. I love messages like this! Sometimes I recognize the critter right away, other times I have to do a little sleuthing to narrow down its identity. I don’t promise to get a species-level ID, nor do I promise to be right all the time, but I’m sure willing to give it a good shot! Feel free to submit your questions any time.

Anyways, today I got one of these emails, and it was so much fun I had to share it with you (details removed out of respect for the author’s privacy):

Can you tell me what these bugs are?  I live in Texas.  I walked out of my home this morning and saw these 2 bugs sitting side by side on my fence.

One appears to be a green moth, the other some sort of beetle or roach.  They are both about the same size, approx, 1.5 inches.

They are probably harmless, but you never know and they creep me out.



My first thought was, “How interesting to find two such apparently different insects side-by-side on a fence!” My curiosity was piqued immediately. I finally downloaded the image files, and although the photo was a bit blurry, the mystery cleared up right away:

Mystery bugs: green “moth” on the left and brown “roach” on the right. (Photo by J, cropped by me).

J had snapped a photo of an unmistakable scene – and one I’ve never observed personally: a freshly eclosed cicada (the green “moth”, left) resting next to its old nymphal skin (or “exuvia“, right). Very cool!

A closer image of the adult sealed the deal:

It must feel like a strange and very bright new world for this adult cicada which, up to now, had been living in the soil! (Photo by J, cropped by me)

Definitely a cicada. Possibly a dog-day cicada (Tibicen sp.), but it’s hard to say for sure from these photos. Also, the colour of the insect is likely to darken considerably as it sclerotizes (hardens) – the true color would make the ID a bit easier.

As soon as those brand new adult wings have hardened, the cicada will find a nice perch in a tall tree and begin singing for a mate. I haven’t yet heard the cicadas sing here in Ontario, but their high-pitched drone always signals true summer for me 🙂

Photo Friday: they killed my plant (Pseudococcus longispinus)

I’ve been trying to get rid of these stupid jerk-bugs for months.

Today, I am admitting defeat and chucking my formerly nice house plant in the trash.  I figured I might as well document the little buggers before unleashing my wrath:

Long-tailed mealybug, Pseudococcus longispinus (2)

Long-tailed mealybugs, Pseudococcus longispinus, making a royal mess of my nice house plant. *sulk*

These are readily recognized as “long-tailed mealybugs”, Pseudococcus longispinus. There’s a simple little key to common mealybug pests of house plants here: Key to Mealybugs, which you can use if you find yourself in a similar situation. Because it’s important to know these things if you’re a big geek. Which I am.

Long-tailed mealybug, Pseudococcus longispinus

Stupid jerk-bugs. *sulk*

These images actually provide a fun opportunity to see how far my bug photography has come in the past couple of years.  Waaaaaay back in ’09 (before anybody read this blog, except for maybe Ted and my wife) I posted about another mealybug infestation (ironically, also on a plant purchased from Ikea, as this one was. Hmm. But I digress). You can see the old post and accompanying image here: “Mealybugs“.

That picture (ROFL) was one of my earliest bug photo attempts. It was taken about a month before I got my Raynox macro clip-on, and about 2 years before I got my flash. The before and after represents a little over two years of practice. I think I’m getting better?

(Also, does anybody have a good home remedy do deal with these?)

Photo Friday: Western Conifer Seed Bug, Leptoglossus occidentalis

Yesterday, my wife called for me to come upstairs: “Come see!”

This usually can be translated to mean: “There’s a bug up here for you!”, so I hustled up the stairs and found her pointing at a large, leggy shape lumbering across the carpet.

For a second, I was disappointed. What a cruel trick. “Ew. Spider.”

But then I got a little closer and realized it was something not at all icky spidery. It was a Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis), readily recognized by its lovely earthy colors and fancy hind feet.

Western Conifer Seed Bug, Leptoglossus occidentalis

Western Conifer Seed Bug, Leptoglossus occidentalis

These often come indoors to visit us, presumably to avoid bad weather (silly thing, it’s so lovely out right now!).  Weather permitting, we always escort them back outside. I released this guy on a branch of our cherry tree in the back yard. He hung out there for a few minutes before flying off, all gangly legs and buzzing wings, toward the stand of white pine on the other side of the fence.

Western Conifer Seed Bug, Leptoglossus occidentalis

Western Conifer Seed Bug, Leptoglossus occidentalis

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