Spotted lantern flies have quickly become a concern throughout the US. With the capability of weakening and destroying trees, it’s no wonder we are instructed to kill on sight. The battle to protect our ecosystem was never going to be an easy one, but thankfully nature has provided a natural ally.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE | Predators of the spotted lanternfly include praying mantises, chickens, garden spiders, gray catbirds, yellowjackets, koi fish, garter snakes, and wheel bugs. Typically found in the south, the wheel bug has been making its way up north over the past decade and made its way to Pennsylvania– just in time to provide reinforcements.
The wheel bug gets its name from the serrated crest on its pronotum (the prominent plate-like structure that covers the upper part of its thorax) that resembles a portion of a wheel. Fully grown, the average wheel bug is gray and is around 1- 1 ½ inches in length. Newly hatched wheel bugs, or nymphs, are small, bright red, and have not yet developed their wheel.
When attacking, wheel bugs sing their beak-like mouthparts to pierce their prey and inject a powerful mix of enzymes that kills and begins digesting their prey from the inside. In addition, wheel bugs are also a predator when it comes to spotted lantern fly eggs, feasting on the pre-hatched spotted lantern flies before they even become a problem.
Although wheel bugs are an ally in the fight against spotted lantern flies, it is not advised to interact with them. Bob Androw, a Scientific Preparator in Invertebrate Zoology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, describes his experience of being bitten in an article for carnegiemnh.org.
“The initial bite was not terribly bad but unusual, feeling like a tiny electrical shock. In less than a minute, however, a sharp, burning sensation began spreading the length of my thumb. The pain reached a crescendo in about 5 minutes and stayed at that level for several hours, said Androw. “The next day, the burning had subsided but was replaced by a dull, throbbing ache that felt as if I’d smashed my thumb with a hammer. That discomfort persisted for a couple more days, yet oddly, there was no swelling and no obvious redness or sore at the site of the bite.”
Despite this unpleasant experience, Androw still advocated the utility of these bugs. “Their predatory behavior helps rid gardens and forests of a wide variety of pest insects, from leaf-feeding beetles to caterpillars — a process of natural pest elimination known as biocontrol.”
Like the spotted lantern fly, the wheel bug is a force of nature in itself. It may not originate from Pennsylvania, but its presence provides protection, making it a valuable addition to our ecosystem. The next time you see this little round guy, consider leaving him to do his thing, and if you see one approaching a spotted lantern fly, let them fight.