Handle with care

Last year on a warm June morning, my cousin dashed inside to tell me she’d discovered a “large bug” and wondered if I’d seen it.  She’d already become supportive of my nature photography, although she remained aloof when it focused on insects.  (Admittedly, she progressed a good deal while hanging around me, even going so far as to handle a few moths, something she wouldn’t have considered before she came to visit.  There’s more work to do, yes, but progress is progress.)

When asked what the insect looked like, all she could provide was that—again—it was big.  All things are relative, so to a young lass such as herself an imposing critter might appear large whilst being miniscule.  Still, I hadn’t seen anything overly impressive during my morning rounds, hence I figured she’d found something new for the day.  I grabbed my camera and followed her outside.

A wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) (20120625_00415)

She led me to a real treat.  Still covered with the powder-like residue of sloughed exoskeleton, this 1.5 inch/38mm newly-emerged adult wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) had left behind childish appearances and taken on the unmistakable shape of North America’s largest assassin bug.

Close-up of a wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) showing the distinctive cog-like armor on its back (20120625_00441)

As I snapped photos of the sluggish, not-quite-dry insect, I thanked my cousin for bringing it to my attention.  I also told her a little about this true bug, which included a warning that she not try to handle them (something that, she reminded me, she wouldn’t dare try—moths were progress enough for the time being).

Dorsal view of an adult wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) as it dries (20120625_00457)

Though not prone to bite unless handled roughly or startled into defending itself, wheel bugs nevertheless can inflict a memorably painful bite if provoked.  And in the worst case, the wound can take months to heal and can even leave behind a permanent scar.

My cousin took careful note of my warnings even as she sheepishly reiterated that she had already come a long way, thank you very much, and had no intention of delving further into the insect handling arena.  At least not yet.

I finished her introduction to this species by telling her they are beneficial insects because they hunt other arthropods, including caterpillars, beetles, flies, and anything else they can catch and kill.

A wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) climbing the outside of a storage shed (20121012_04627)

In mid October I found another wheel bug climbing the outside of a storage shed.  About the same size as the one from earlier in the year, this one had the advantage of being warm and hardened, so it made for a more challenging photographic subject.

An adult wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) (20121012_04667)

The telltale cog-like armor is unique to adult wheel bugs, thus it makes identifying the species quite simple.  Other assassin bugs, also capable of biting, don’t possess this feature.  Neither does any other species of insect, I should add.

Close-up of a wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) showing its head and proboscis (20121012_04647)

Speaking of biting, this close-up shows the proboscis, the long, tube-like mouthpart below the insect’s head.  They swing this mouthpart out and plunge it into their prey—or the unlucky person who provokes them.  Paralytic and digestive enzymes are then injected, after which the wheel bug simply drinks its food—the insides of whatever is caught.

A wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) trying to climb onto the camera lens (20121012_04663)

An always funny thing about putting the camera lens so close to some wildlife is that the wildlife take it as an invitation to climb aboard the camera.  Here its front legs are searching for a grip on the front lens element.  Not the first or last creature to try this, it always gives me a chuckle even as I pull back to keep them from hitching a free ride.

Close-up of a wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) (20121012_04664)

Even as the wheel bug tried to climb on, it held still long enough for one final portrait.

— — — — — — — — — —

This begins an intermittent series of posts focused on arthropods that can be dangerous if mishandled.  I stress “can be” since many critters can be dangerous if pestered enough, while some can be dangerous simply because they have bad attitudes (e.g., water snakes) and others can be dangerous simply as an automatic act of defense (e.g., venomous caterpillars).  As I’ve always said, wildlife shouldn’t be handled unless you know what you’re doing and are aware of the risks, if any.

Surface tension

A maple leaf floating on water (20080921_12654)

So we have pierced the surface tension of a new year and plunged headlong into 2013.  This must come as quite a surprise to the doomsayers who ignorantly presumed the end of the Mayan calendar was a prophecy about the end of the world.

(It was, in point of fact, nothing of the sort.  It was not a prediction but it was the end of a calendar, just like December 31 is the end of the Gregorian calendar and happens once a year.  These same blind believers never think December 31 is the end of the world simply because the calendar ends; instead, they buy a new calendar.  Yet somehow, looking at the Mayan long-count calendar, they saw doomsday prophecies instead of the need for a new calendar.  And though the Mayans somehow missed predicting the end of their own civilization—they never saw that coming—they were nevertheless endowed with the unquestionable prescience to know when the world would end.  Never mind the fact that real Mayan prophecies include events well past December 21, 2012, another inconvenient truth easily ignored by the great unwashed.  But I parenthetically digress…)

Though I don’t make New Year’s resolutions—they symbolize weakness because anyone who needs a new year in order to better themselves is (a) lacking in willpower and (b) destined to fail for the same reasons they didn’t try to better themselves before the new year began—I do have plans for 2013.

First, I hope to publish two novels.  This of course depends greatly on when the first one finally hits print.  Early enough in the year and the second can easily fit within the next twelve months; later in the year, however, and the second will likely be pushed into 2014.  My sincere intent is to have both published in 2013.  They will be the first and second installments of a series.

Next, I want to keep this blog going.  Since February will mark the tenth anniversary of xenogere (and jasonhogle.com, it’s predecessor and now sister site), I feel the endeavor and subsequent accomplishment are well worth my time.  And as I get my novels published and get my (more) public writing career started, xenogere could grow into more than it is.  Then again, it could also stay the same.  Only time will tell.

Third, I intend to publish my first nature photography book, coffee-table size.  I have talked about this goal for some time, yet I’ve never made it happen.  I want to change that trend.  Coupled with writing—some of it gleaned from this blog and some of it original—the book will provide eye candy as well as mind and heart candy.

Fourth, I will buy a RV.  Just sayin’.

In addition, I will either purchase an additional vehicle—a SUV—or I will trade in my IS 300 on said SUV (preferably the former, but I’ll accept the latter).

Sixth, I might launch an author page on Facebook and I will launch one on Goodreads.  I don’t consider social networking to be that important in my life.  I can take it or leave it, especially Facebook, hence that idea is a might do and Goodreads is a will do.

Seventh, I plan to return to Dallas to visit friends and family, and likewise I will travel to Idaho to visit my sister and her family, and similarly I will travel to New York to visit family, and additionally I will travel to where ever to visit other friends and family.  Assuming I plan and execute some book signings, I’ll travel elsewhere, and perhaps I’ll consolidate a few of these trips.

Also, I want to continue expanding my photography work (camera upgrades included).  Here in Jefferson I’ve had the chance to delve into other areas of that hobby, and I’ve been asked to continue branching out by way of specific projects and requests.  Making it a paying gig will be nice.

Ninth, I will keep writing.

Tenth, I aim to continue being as much help to my parents as possible.

Eleventh, I’d like to get involved with local newspapers and magazines (believe me, they need the help).  In what capacity I don’t know, at least not yet, but it’s something I’d like to do.

And finally, I mean to inject myself into the area in which I now live.  By that I mean meeting more people and making new friends, delving into whatever social and cultural offerings can be found here in the Piney Woods (and surrounding area), and otherwise becoming an active member of this dispersed, bucolic-cum-townish, diverse environment.

This is by no means an exhaustive representation of my to-do list, but it’s a good representation of the plans I have heading into 2013.  After all, we’ve pierced the surface tension of a new year.  Now it’s time to swim in the temporal river of possibility.

A paper wasp (Polistes annularis) standing on shallow water to drink (2009_03_08_012965)

— — — — — — — — — —


  1. Maple leaf floating on water: unless something lands on the leaf or the leaf degrades enough to take on water, it will not break through the lake’s surface tension and sink like many of its brethren.
  2. Paper wasp (Polistes annularis) standing on water to drink: as long as it lands lightly with its legs spread, a wasp is light enough to stand on water’s surface tension, though in this case the wasp has pierced the surface with one of its legs.