Here’s an example of why it pays to keep your eyes open when you’re working in the garden.
Yesterday I was thinning out some old lilac bushes when something caught my eye. On one of the branches, there was a group of small insects that were unlike anything I’d seen before. The head and thorax of this creature was black, but the abdomen was bright orange. They were also clustered around a honeycomb-like structure that I assumed was an egg case. They moved slowly and didn’t seem to want to leave the branch where I had found them.
I first thought these were some kind of spider but after taking a picture of them and looking at it more closely, what I thought were eight legs were really six legs and two really large antennae. Also, the antennae were orange at the tip.
Whenever I find an insect that I can’t identify, I go to my friend Google. I typed “black insect with orange abdomen” and the second image shown gave me my answer. This was the first instar of a wheel bug (Arilus cristatus).
I wrote about the wheel bug a few years ago when I saw my first one. (What the….. Oh, It’s a Wheel Bug.) I’ve seen adults over the past few years, but I knew nothing about what they look like as nymphs.
The wheel bugs I found were in their first instar, having just hatched from their egg cases. An instar is a developmental stage of a nymph in an insect that matures by way of incomplete metamorphosis. (Insects with incomplete metamorphosis have three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Those with complete metamorphosis have four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Wheel bugs and grasshoppers mature by way of incomplete metamorphosis; butterflies and moths go through a complete metamorphosis.) Between each instar stage, the insect molts, shedding its exoskeleton to grow and/or take on a new form. Wheel bugs go through 5 instar stages before becoming sexually mature adults. At each molt, they change a little bit but it isn’t until the final molt that they take on the look of an adult wheel bug. It’s kind of hard to believe that this first instar nymph is the same insect as the adult!
I’m glad I had my eyes open and saw these wheel bugs when I was trimming. I was able to rescue them from the chipper since they’re beneficial insects. But maybe even more important, seeing them kept me from touching them which could have been a problem. You see, these nymphs, just like the adults, can give a painful bite. The nymphs might be cuter than the adults, but you want to leave both of them alone if you see them!