Unlike beloved ladybugs and majestic butterflies, assassin bugs are not the most approachable insects. The name “assassin bug” is a bit dramatic and misleading, as these insects are not the hired guns of the arthropod community. The name is not meaningless, however, as all assassin bugs are predatory insects that quickly move upon and dispatch their prey by inflicting repeated stabs with their needle-like mouthpart. Assassin bugs belong to the Reduviidae family of true bugs, and numerous species inhabit every region of the United States. These insects may sound familiar to some, as a species found in the deep south, Mexico and South America, spread a disease known as “chagas” to humans via their fecal matter. Luckily, the US sees very few chagas cases, and disease spreading assassin bug species cannot be found in the northeast, but this is not to say that assassin bugs in the northeast are harmless to humans. Assassin bugs in the northeast, like S. carinata, Z. luridus and several Pselliopus species, may be beneficial due to their habit of preying upon garden pests, but these insects can also pierce human skin, which often results in a lasting wound. Luckily, assassin bugs are not aggressive toward humans, and they only bite when carelessly mishandeld, but one eastern species, the “wheel bug,” will inflict very painful injuries to humans who unknowingly disturb the pests. It is not uncommon for gardeners in the northeast to sustain wheel bug injuries.
Wheel bugs dwell within high-vegetation areas, such as forests, parks and backyard gardens during the summer and fall. Not only are wheel bugs potentially dangerous, but their large size can be startling to residents when the insects are spotted in backyards. Wheel bugs can also be found indoors on occasion, as one resident recounts finding six specimens on her porch before finding one on her living room floor a few days later. Another resident, Richard “bugman” Fagerlund, received a bite after reaching into a bush in front of his home. The bugman claimed to have been bitten nine times by venomous snakes, as well as stung several times by scorpions and centipedes. Despite his rich history of sustaining venomous bites, the bugman claimed that the wheel bug bite resulted in the greatest degree of pain that had ever been delivered by an animal. The bugman even wrote an article describing his painful wheel bug encounter for the San Francisco Chronicle. In the article he described the insect’s bite as feeling as though he had just been shot. Unfortunately, researchers and residents of the eastern coastal states have noticed an unusually high wheel bug population around homes in the region. This population spike is likely due to the growing abundance of brown marmorated stink bugs in urban and suburban areas of the northeast. This invasive stink bug species is highly sought after by predatory wheel bugs.
Have you found any large and strange-looking insects around your home?