Giant Leaf-footed Bug

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This species of North American true bug ranges from the southern United States to Guatemala and some Caribbean islands.

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It is the largest of this genus within this range, often growing to be 1-1/4 inches long. Leaf-footed bugs are named for the spines and flat dilations on their hind legs.

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The Giant Leaf-footed Bug can be distinguished from similar species by its much more broadly expanding shield, which is wider than its abdomen.

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Leaf-footed bugs are are plant-feeders. They live above ground on their host plants where they may feed on seeds, fruits, stems or leaves.

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Like all true bugs, the adults are equipped with a beak, a hypodermic needle-like device carried under the head, which they uses to pierce the plant tissue and suck out liquids.

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This was the first time I’ve ever encountered this impressive insect and it was a welcome find on Thanksgiving Weekend in Central Illinois.

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Thread-Legged Bug

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While walking on Snake Road in southern Illinois this month, I saw this curious looking creature on a tree. It was too thin-bodied to be a Walking Stick and it also had the ability to fly.

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Thread-legged Bugs are are a type of Assassin Bug, which means they have piercing, sucking mouthparts that look like a long, pointy straw. They pierce the exoskeleton of their insect prey and suck out the insides.

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Though the raptorial front legs are reminiscent of those of a Preying Mantis, the Thread-Legged Bug is not closely related to the mantis. This insect walks around on four long, impossibly thin legs and snatches its prey with its forelegs before stabbing it with its pointy mouth.

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Like other Assassin Bugs, Thread-Legged Bugs are beneficial predators. I had never come across one of these before and it was an awesome encounter.

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17 Year Cicada

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This year has been a special one for fans of insects in northeast Ohio. The emergence of millions of ciciadas occured. Magicicada is the genus of the 13-year and 17-year periodical cicadas of eastern North America.

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They have spent the past 17 years underground as nymphs feeding on fluids from roots of deciduous trees. At night, when it gets warm enough, the nymphs climb the nearest available tree (or man-made structure), and begin to shed their nymph exoskeleton.

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In the morning their exoskeletons could be seen in large numbers, where the creatures which the creatures that previously lived underground, see light for the first time after more than a decade and a half of a subterranean lifestyle. They also get wings.

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Free of their old skin, their wings inflate with fluid and their adult skin hardens. Once their new wings and body are ready, they can begin their brief adult life, which lasts 4 to 6 weeks.

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As an adult, a cicada has one job to do: make baby cicadas. To accomplish this task, an adult male will spend the last part of his life in furious song. Their sounds are sometimes reminiscent of chirps, rattles, or high-pitched screams, and when males gather in trees to form a chorus, the noise can exceed 100 decibels. Their song can be heard by females up to a mile away.

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A single brood can contain billions of cicadas, with as 1.5 million insects per square acre in some parts of the region. Simultaneously emerging in such great numbers is a survival strategy known as predator satiation.

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With a lifespan of 17 years, cicadas are among the longest-living insects on earth.

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Wheel Bug

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Walking near the Cache River in southern Illinois, I came across this awesome insect. The Wheel Bug is one of the largest terrestrial true bugs in North America, being up to 1-1/2 inches in length. It features a wheel-shaped structure on its back; this is the only insect species in the United States with such a crest.

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A type of Assassin Bug, Wheel Bugs are predators upon soft-bodied insects such as caterpillars, which they pierce with their beak to inject salivary fluids that dissolve soft tissue. Because most of their prey are pests, wheel bugs are considered as beneficial to man. They are also known for eating Stink Bugs.

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These insects are common in eastern North America, although most residents where they live have never seen them. Wheel Bugs are well-camouflaged and very shy, hiding in leafy habitat whenever possible. They have wings which allow for clumsy, noisy flight.

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Once you see a Wheel Bug, you are not likely to forget it. Not only is it the largest member of Assassin Bugs, their bizarre appearance makes quite an impression. It was very cool to come across this terror of the insect world, which I’ve only seen once before.

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Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

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Here’s an insect that I recently found in my house. The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, an insect not previously seen on our continent, was apparently accidentally introduced into eastern Pennsylvania about 10-15 years ago.

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It is native to China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. This insect feeds on a wide range of fruits, vegetables and other plants. It is a sucking insect, a “true bug”, that uses its straw-like mouth to pierce a host plant in order to feed.

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Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs are attracted to the outsides of houses on warm Fall days while searching for protected, overwintering sites. They occasionally reappear during warmer, sunny periods throughout the Winter, and again when they emerge in the Spring.

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They are the typical “shield” shape of other stink bugs, almost as wide as they are long, which is less than an inch. The name “stink bug” refers to the scent glands which release an odor when the insect feels threatened. This prevents it from being eaten by many types of birds and lizards.

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Adults can live from several months to a year. While sometimes confused with native stink bugs, to identify this species accurately, examine its antennae for alternating bands of light and dark on the last two segments.

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Western Conifer Seed Bug

Looking out my kitchen window this morning, I saw one of these trapped between the screen and the window. The Western Conifer Seed Bug belongs to a small group of true bugs called the leaf-footed bugs. As the name indicates, these bugs have long hind legs that end with a flattened, leaf-like structure. They sometimes are called “walky bugs” in Ohio due to the slow and steady way that they walk.

There are more around the house that stay hidden, though on warm Fall, Winter and Spring days they can be seen in the open, catching the warm sun’s rays. They are able to fly and make a buzzing noise when airborne.

The Western Conifer Seed Bug feeds on the sap of developing conifer cones throughout its life. Their primary defense is to spray a bitter, offending smell; though to humans sometimes it can smell pleasantly of apples or pine sap.

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This insect was first described in the western United States and has been expanding its range eastward. It was first detected in Pennsylvania in 1992.

Western Conifer Seed Bugs overwinter as adults under protective debris for shelter. They are harmless to people and kind of cool to have hanging around the house. Their flat bodies allow them to wedge themselves into small cracks and sometimes they end up inside homes.

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Yellow-bellied Bee Assassin

The name says it all for this insect. The Yellow-bellied Bee Assassin waits for bees to land on flowers and then grabs them.

It was amusing to watch a group of these attempt to capture any insect that landed on the flowers – sometimes butterflies much bigger than themselves.

There are at least 100 species of Assassin Bugs, named because of their habit of lying in ambush for their insect prey.

With speed and accuracy, this bug uses its long beak to stab the victim and then inject it with a lethal toxin that dissolves the victim’s tissue, then it sucks up the liquefied tissue.

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Cicada

Lately I’ve been coming across these red-eyed insects in tall fields of vegetation. These are known as “periodical cicadas” and they’re only found in eastern North America. All other cicadas are “annual cicadas.”

Larva for periodical cicadas live underground and develop very slowly, taking either 13 or 17 years (depending on the species) to reach adulthood. Here’s a larva that I found in central Ohio, though I’ve also seen them in my yard on occasion, under rocks and logs.

Populations of periodical cicadas are called broods, and each emerge all at once as winged adults – sometimes by the thousands…and sometimes by the millions.

Annual cicadas don’t have red eyes. Their loud, buzzing sawlike call is the loudest in the insect world. Adults don’t eat and only live a few days. Here’s one that I found in Las Vegas in 2009.

When the larva emerges from underground the back of its shell splits and a soft, pale adult emerges. It takes a few hours for the insect’s exoskelton to harden and for its wings to dry. Here’s one that I saw on a tree in my backyard that had recently emerged.

This insect’s amazing lifestyle has been a source of fascination since ancient times. Several cultures, such as the ancient Chinese, regarded these insects as powerful symbols of rebirth. Here’s a carved jade sculpture of a cicada that I got in China Town (San Francisco) – it resides on my kitchen windowsill.

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Green Stink Bug

“Stinkbug” is the common name for a family of insects. There are thousands of species, found in most parts of the world. Stinkbugs are so named because they secrete a foul-smelling liquid that is repulsive to most predators. Most stinkbugs are dull in color, usually gray or brown, but some are such colors as brilliant green – like this one I saw today.

These insects are also sometimes known as “Shield Bugs,” because of their shape. Adult stink bugs hibernate in order to survive the winter. In the fall I often see Brown Stinkbugs sunning themselves on my house and shed, catching the last warm rays of sun for the year.

Like a skunk, a stinkbug will only give off a very bad smell if it is bothered. To most predators, a stinkbug tastes as bad as it smells.

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Water Strider

Spring is just around the corner. It was 70 degrees and pleasant today. Many people were walking around, enjoying the weather. I decided to check out a vernal pool where frogs and salamanders will soon be migrating to. Since it is fishless, it’s a good place for the amphibians to lay their eggs. Although I didn’t see any frogs or salamanders, an insect skimming across the water caught my eye.

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Water Striders are able to skate on top of water due to a combination of several factors. They use the high surface tension of water and their long legs (which give them an even distribution of weight) to help them stay above water. New research reveals the Water Strider’s legs are covered with microscopic hairs that trap tiny air bubbles, allowing the insect to simply float.

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These insects live on the surface of ponds, slow streams, marshes, and other quiet waters. They have very good vision and move quickly on the water. The short front legs of a Water Strider are for grabbing prey (often mosquitoes, their larva and other small insects).

Water Striders can live for many months and adults can overwinter. They crawl inside plant stems and seek other forms of shelter when it gets cold. Other common names for Water Striders are: water bugs, magic bugs, pond skaters, skaters, skimmers, water scooters, water skaters, water skeeters, water skimmers, water skippers, water spiders and Jesus bugs.

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