These four cool insects may accidentally cross the threshold of your home. If you occasionally leave the front door to your house open or keep a window cracked to allow the smell of those spring-time blossoms to waft through, these unusual-looking bugs may just find themselves indoors. House centipedes and giant water bugs, for example, may seek alternative shelter after a heavy rainstorm or flooding. That stable-weather-condition-environment they’re on the hunt for just might be through that open window in your home.
If not indoors, then perhaps these atypical bugs will be discovered in your yard. Hickory horned devils have a particular fancy for hickory trees, whereas wheel bugs will gleefully follow cabbage loopers, cucumber beetles, cutworm moths and other unwanted-garden-insects into your garden (and -to your delight- get rid of them).
It’s important to understand that these wild-looking creatures are most at home in their native environments, whether that be a woodland forest, a freshwater habitat -such as a stream- or under a rock. As land development and urbanization continue, though, this is changing, as their natural environments are being disturbed, their ecological balances are being disrupted and our homes are getting closer to their natural habitats (or their homes).
What are four weird-looking insects that I may find in or around my home?
Odd-looking, but very real insects that you may just come across are the wheel bug, giant water bug, house centipede and the hickory horned devil. While these insects may look intimidating, half of them are not harmful or dangerous to humans. (I saw half because wheel bugs, though not aggressive towards humans, are known to defend themselves by delivering a sharp, painful bite with their piercing mouthpart. The giant water bug, on the other hand, can use its beak-like mouthpart to pierce one’s flesh and inject a potent venomous saliva, which results in a painful, swelling bite).
As with any interaction with wildlife, it's wise to approach these insects with a sense of awareness and respect for their capabilities. By giving them the space they need and refraining from provoking or mishandling them, the likelihood of a harmful encounter is significantly reduced.
What are wheel bugs?
The wheel bug is a mysterious creature. Scientifically known as Arilus cristatus, it is a member of the assassin bug family and earned its peculiar name from the prominent, wheel-shaped crest on its thorax. The wheel bug is most known for its stealthy hunting skills. With its long, piercing beak-like mouthpart (called a rostrum), the wheel bug skillfully employs to extract bodily fluids from its unsuspecting prey. With precision and stealth, it strikes like a silent assassin, injecting potent saliva that immobilizes and digests its victims. It’s a rather ruthless, though effective, hunting tactic. Wouldn’t you agree?
Looks: Wheel bugs have a robust body with a brownish or grayish coloration. One of their most noticeable features is the prominent, wheel-like structure on their thorax, (which gives them their name). This wheel-shaped structure consists of spines arranged in a circular pattern, resembling the spokes of a wheel. Their heads are equipped with a rostrum (as mentioned above). When not in use, this beak-like mouthpart is tucked under their body. Wheel bugs also possess powerful, raptorial forelegs that are designed for capturing and holding onto their victims.
What are giant water bugs?
Giant water bugs, scientifically referred to as Belostomatidae, are magnificent giants of the water (in comparison to other water-dwelling insects) and are commonly found in freshwater habitats such as ponds, streams and marshes. Also known as toe-biters, these large aquatic insects look like cockroaches or beetles. These water-bug-roaches come equipped with a strong, sharp beak designed for seizing and subduing their unsuspecting prey. I surely wouldn’t want to be a small aquatic organism in their wake!
Looks: Giant water bugs have distinctive physical characteristics that set them apart. They typically have a flat, oval-shaped body with long hind legs adapted for swimming. Their coloration can vary, often ranging from dark brown to black. One striking feature is their powerful front legs, which are modified into pincer-like appendages used for capturing and immobilizing prey.
What are house centipedes?
House centipedes, scientifically known as Scutigera coleoptrata, are masters of agility and speed. With their elongated bodies and countless pairs of legs, they scuttle across floors and walls with remarkable grace.
Don't be alarmed, though, by this bug’s creepy appearance, for they are quite harmless to humans. In fact, they are valuable allies in the realm of pest control, as they feast upon an array of unwanted intruders such as silverfish, earwigs, ants, cockroaches and spiders. Their lightning-fast movements and exceptional hunting skills make them efficient predators in the realm of household pests.
They can be found in homes, as well as basements, bathrooms and crawl spaces. They prefer damp environments.
Looks: House centipedes have elongated, slender bodies that are a distinctive yellowish-brown color, complemented by dark stripes and markings. These bodies are divided into segments, each segment boasting a pair of delicate legs. (On average, they have 30 legs and are one of the most common bugs with lots of legs). Their heads are adorned with long antennae and a set of powerful, pincher-like mandibles.
What are hickory horned devils?
The hickory horned devil, scientifically known as citheronia regalis, is the larval stage of the regal moth, (or the royal walnut moth). These smooth, predominantly green-colored horned caterpillars are primarily associated with deciduous forests and feed on the leaves of hickory, walnut and sweetgum trees. Once fully grown, these caterpillars undergo a remarkable transformation - forming a cocoon and emerging as a magnificent, elegant moth. What a transformation.
Looks: Measuring up to four inches in length, the hickory horned devil is one of the largest caterpillars in North America. The name “hickory horned devil” is derived from the creature’s distinctive appearance. “Hickory” refers to the type of tree on which they’re often found, whereas “horned devil” pertains to their stout body adorned with several prominent spines or “horns” that give them an almost devilish or out-of-this-world appearance. Their spines may look menacing, but are merely a defense mechanism.
What do I do if I see any of these insects in my home?
If you happen upon a wheel bug, a giant water bug, a house centipede or a hickory horned devil in your home (or your yard), do not be alarmed. Aside from the house centipede, which is quite the beneficial insect to allow residence in your home, these other scary-looking bugs were not planning to make their way inside indoors. They want to be there no more than you want them there.
Here’s what to do:
Wheel bug: If you come across a wheel bug in your garden, allow it to eat as many leafhoppers, wasps and aphids as it pleases and then it’ll merrily be on its way. I wouldn’t touch it. (Remember that they have a rostrum - that piercing-sucking mouthpart).
Giant water bug: The giant water bug in your house will need a little coaxing to leave. If you feel comfortable doing so, use a container or jar to carefully capture the water bug and release it in the great outdoors. Another option is to slip a sheet of study cardboard under it and gingerly carry it to an open door or window. Don’t touch it. (Giant water bugs have rostrums too).
House centipede: I, personally, would allow it to stay. House centipedes are nocturnal and you’re quite unlikely to cross paths with them. If you find their presence unsettling or undesirable and wish to get rid of them, though, you can capture and release (as with the water bug) house centipedes or vacuum them up and release them.
Hickory horned devil: Gently handle and relocate this caterpillar by using a container or piece of cardboard and place it near a tree or shrub. I wouldn’t recommend touching it with bare hands, as, although hickory horned devils are not harmful, they have spines (or hairs) that can cause skin irritation.For any miscreants, it’s invaluable to have Six Feet Under on hand. I actually keep a one ounce bottle of this spray in my kitchen, where it seems that I’m most likely to encounter bothersome pests. I also like to apply Dust to Dust around the perimeter of my home and my yard. Dust to Dust Non-Toxic Insect Powder kills, repels and prevents ants, roaches, ticks, fleas and more. It is an alternative to diatomaceous earth, featuring super-fine silica particles and cutting-edge essential oil nanotechnology to stop 100+ insect species in their tracks. While wheel bugs, giant water bugs, house centipedes and hickory horned devils insects may not all cross my threshold, there are many other bugs that will. It’s best to be prepared.