Episode 203 – Wheel Bug: A Cog in the Machine

“…and today we’re talking about a bug that sounds like a pokemon, but looks like a dark souls enemy.”

The insect world is a horrifyingly brutal one. For most, life is hard, stressful, and short. This is due, in part, to the work of players like the Assassin Bug. Many bugs that rely on their tough exoskeletons for defense will find that the assassin bug can turn that advantage against them. Using moves known only to spiders, the assassin springs from the shadows to snag its next meal. But kill or be killed is the law of the jungle here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Wheel Bug

  • We got ourselves an elongated beetle-like body, with a proportionally small oblong head. 
  • They have a single segmented proboscis coming out of their face. 
  • They have six long, thin legs.
  • They are mostly black and brown with some white and tan coloration. 
  • The most notable feature is a saw-like dorsal crest on their thorax.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro but that means we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is.

  1. French Hen
  2. Turtle Dove
  3. Partridge
  4. Mute swan


  • 1.5 inches (38 mm)
  • How many wheel bugs go into the world’s tallest real Christmas tree?
  • Hint: The tree was cut and decorated in Seattle in 1950 at the Northgate Shopping Center.
  • 1,696 bugs. The tree was 212 feet (64.6 meters)

Egg Clusters

  • 40 to 200
  • How many wheel bug egg clusters go into the largest collection of dinosaur eggs?
  • Hint: The largest collection of dinosaur eggs is located at the Heyuan Museum in China. The collection includes eggs from oviraptors and duck-billed dinosaurs. 
  • 50 egg clusters. The collection has 10,008 individual samples.

Fast Facts about the Wheel Bug

  • Wheel bugs are found in Central and North America.
  • Their segmented proboscis is folded up normally, but it unfolds forward like an eldritch horror straw.
  • Wheel bugs walk and fly very slowly, so it’s brown, black, and tan coloration help keep a low profile.
  • It has sent glands from which it can shoot a stinky scent when threatened. It’s not as potent as a stink bug, but humans can detect it.
  • They are fairly aggressive and will even cannibalize each other when necessary. 
  • They can use their fell beaks to rub their thorax to stridulate, like a cricket. We don’t know why they make those sounds.
  • When they hatch, they are black and red in their nymph stage, which kind of looks like a black widow. 
  • They will molt five times, with around 18 days between molts. 

Major Fact

  • Assassin bugs are so named thanks to their incredibly efficient and brutal hunting style
  • They’re predators that grasp their prey with their long legs covered in tiny chitinous hairs that help keep the prey in place. 
    • They then proceed to stab the prey with their long proboscises and inject their saliva into the poor bug’s carapace.
    • The assassin bug’s saliva is filled with digestive enzymes that break down the insides of the prey – essentially turning it into a delicious kinder egg smoothie.
    • Then it just slurps up the good goo with that very same proboscis
    • This predatory strategy is usually reserved for spiders, so it’s rare to find this in an insect.
  • Since so many of their prey species are pests, people actually tend to want assassin bugs in their house
    • Some people breed these little guys and keep them in their homes as a natural pest control
    • One species in Australia has large feathery tufts on its hind legs and waits for ants to bite into the tufts before giving them the ol’ stab n’ slurp.
  • However, there are other species that are blood-sucking parasites, which people tend to be less fond of. 
    • Kissing bugs, for example, like to crawl onto your face while you’re sleeping and suck the blood out of your lips!
    • These guys also tend to spread disease like other blood-based parasites.
  • The wheel bug is particularly aggressive toward basically everyone. It will attack much larger insects than itself and even engage in some tried and true sexual cannibalism. The nymphs also will eat each other.
  • Getting bit by one of these guys is painful and takes a long time to subside.

Ending: So pick your target, wield your proboscis well, and make sure your spit is full of enzymes like the assassin bug here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.