updated By Rebekah Pierce 11/11/2018
Yesterday, I was outside hanging clothes on the line, Jada and Ty were with me playing a few feet away. I heard Jada laugh and say, “Hey Ty! Come here and look at this funny bug!” I glanced over to see them crouching down examining some small critter climbing on a blade of grass.
It didn’t even cross my mind to see what it was they were looking at. I figured they’d seen all of the bugs we have around the house, and knew which ones not to mess with.
Out of the corner of my eye I see Titus pick up the bug. Jada screamed as he began to chase her with it, but within a split second I heard my little guy yell, “OWWW!” and then it was his own scream I was hearing. I dropped what I was doing and rushed over to him in time to see him throw the bug down and try to stomp on it as he cried hysterically.
Now, Titus cries like any other four year old does, but he never screams and cries like he did. I immediately knew he was hurt bad. And when I saw the bug that had bitten him, I was extremely concerned, to say the least. I thought I recognized what it was, but wasn’t absolutely positive, so I ran inside to get a jar and rushed back out to capture it before it scurried away. I knew I’d need it for positive identification if we had to head to the emergency room.
I picked Titus up and rushed him indoors. If this bug was what I thought it was, he was in some major pain. The first thing I did was what I always do when any of us gets a bite or a sting- I wiped his swelling thumb with an antiseptic wipe, got out the snake bite kit (The Extractor), and sucked the red mark hoping to remove some of the venom. He continued to cry, and asked me through big tears, “Why did God make those bugs?!” To which Jada decided to answer, “He had to have had some reason for making it!” Which didn’t help Ty at the moment.
I washed his hand good with soap and water. He complained that it felt “like a sword was getting him”. Poor little thing!
I gave him a piece of ice to hold on the bite while I jumped on the phone and called my husband, who used to be in pest control.
“Hey! What are those bugs that we used to have at our old place, that curl up under leaves and have a terrible bite?” I asked him, trying to hide the concern in my voice.
“Oh, Assassin Bugs. They’re also called Wheel Bugs.” He replied knowledgeably.
“I think Titus just got bit by one.” I said.
Tension immediately flowed through the phone line as Jerry asked if I think I ought to take him to the emergency room. I told him I was gonna look it up online and make sure that’s what it was first.
A quick search brought up an image that matched the ugly insect in the jar before me. It was indeed an Assassin Bug. The Wheel Bug variety, one of the worst of the various types. I continued reading about what to do if bitten by one.
These bugs are bad. Really bad.
Their bite hurts 10x worse than a wasp or a hornet’s sting. And the pain can last for several weeks or even months. I read all kinds of horrible reactions he could have, including a swelling throat which would require an epinephrine shot within 15 minutes.
Now, before I can get into telling you how to treat a bite from one of these nasty creatures, I should probably give you some background information on what they are. If you live in the northern states, you’re lucky, because these bugs aren’t as common in the far north as they are down south. That being said, they’re beginning to slow creep northwards as the average temperatures rise and they find new habitat in which to live.
These bugs are active in the early spring, and they’ll congregate inside your home seeking a refuge from colder winter weather. In some places, they can even live inside your home all year – gross! They usually nest in wooded areas, but if you have an outdoor pet, you might see them closer to your home or any areas where your pet likes to hang out. Since they are attracted to the light, like June bugs, they might hang around your porch light and try to find a way into your home. Once they get inside the home, they might hang out in areas like mattress holes, furniture, cracks in the floor, and holes in the wall.
You can identify assassin bugs by their color, for the most part. They are usually a blackish brown to orange, and can often be a mixture of these shades, too. These bugs have long, beak-like snouts that they actually fold back underneath their thorax. If you disturb one of these bugs, they’ll rub their beaks against their exoskeletons to make a chirping sound.
They feed on blood, and actually have several nicknames in addition to “wheel” and “assassin” – they are also known as kissing bug. This is because they like to feed on humans, and are rumored to do so when we sleep. Um, even more gross!
That being said, most varieties of assassin bugs won’t bite humans. They prefer easier prey, such as small mammals or other insects. They usually prey on less desirable bugs, actually, making them a good creature to have around – they get rid of your pests for you! They prefer to eat bugs like flies, caterpillars, and bees. To do so, they are first captured by the assassin bug’s mouthparts, which extend out and quickly inject an immobilizing, paralyzing toxin into the prey’s body.
Unfortunately, they can also use these mouthparts to bite humans, and the species that live in the American Southwest are the most likely to do this. The two varieties that are known to attack humans include the masked hunter and the western bloodsucking conenose (isn’t that a beautiful name!).
The masked hunter is aptly named, as it is dark brown in color and uses dust and debris to camouflage itself. This bug only eats other insects, but will bite in self-defense or if it accidentally lands on you. It’s a little under an inch in length. It’s most likely that this was the type of bug that bit Titus, because its bite causes sharp pain, numbness, and swelling – much like a wasp sting. This is the type of assassin bug that people most often refer to as the wheel bug.
Why the name, you might ask?
These bugs have a wheel-shaped marking on their backs that give them their trademark name. While these bugs may sound menacing they aren’t terribly dangerous outside of their ability to inflict a painful bite.
Wheel bugs usually feed on larger insects, as I mentioned, and will not bite humans unless they are picked up. I couldn’t be sure, however, that it wasn’t the other alternative – the western bloodsucking conenose. These assassin bugs are even less pleasant than masked hunters. They live in the nests of small rodents, like rats, during the winter, and then leave in the summer in search of other hosts. They very commonly end up in or near human homes, since they are attracted to carbon dioxide (which we emit as we breathe) and bright lights.
This type of assassin bug does directly feed on human blood. When it bites you, it injects an anesthetic into your skin, so you often don’t usually feel the bite at first. It also injects an anticoagulant before feeding on your head, arms, feet, or hands.
If you are bitten by this type of assassin bug, you will have swelling, blistering, and redness, but not as much pain. Some people suffer more severe reactions to the bug’s saliva, which can include severe itching, nausea, and a feeling of being out of breath. This bug is the one that has the reputation of being the kissing bug, as it likes to feed near your mouth and you are not likely to even feel it until it has done its work.
To make matters worse, assassin bugs usually live in groups, meaning if you have one bug, you likely have hordes more. They will crawl under rocks and under cool, dark areas (such as beneath mulch) and wait to emerge until the sun goes away.
These bugs aren’t just dangerous because of the painful bite they can inflict. They are also known to transmit Chagas disease. This nasty illness is responsible for over 20,000 deaths a year in the human population alone. It can also infect mammals like livestock, mice, and more. The disease is caused by a parasite that is transmitted during the bite of insects like the assassin bug, and it’s a major problem in the United States.
When I read this I jumped on the phone to call my grandma who is allergic to bees. I wondered if she might have an epi pen on hand, but unfortunately she didn’t. I was left to worry about how I’d get him to an emergency room in time to give him the shot, should he need one. (Note to self: Get an epi pen!)
I went back into the kitchen where he was sitting and told him to let me know if his throat started to feel funny. He said, “It does.” I tried to soften my concerned expression as I said, “Now buddy, you have to be really serious ’cause if you tell me your throat feels weird I’m gonna take you to the hospital.” To which he replied, “It does feel weird.” I asked him what it felt like. “Like a tree fell on my throat, and it’s bleeding,” he casually explained as he munched away on a cucumber. I figured he was fine since he was eating. And he was.
His thumb, on the other hand, was not fine. It was red and swelling. I decided to have him soak it in a bowl of warm water with Epsom Salt for several minutes. He said it felt a little better, but it still hurt.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Plantain!!!
I hurried outside to the garden where I knew of a big Plantain plant growing beside the tomato bed, and picked a large leaf off of it. After bringing it inside and washing it off, I chewed it up a bit and placed it on Ty’s sore thumb. Then, holding the wet green glob directly on the bite, I wrapped it with gauze and secured it with tape.
An hour and a half later Titus was back to his normal self, playing as if nothing had happened, and claiming to be pain free. I took the bandage off to find that the swelling was completely gone, and his thumb looked perfectly normal again! Only a red dot where the puncture had occurred remained.
I figured the pain would return after a while, but I am SO thankful to be able to say that it was gone for good. Praise the LORD for his healing herbs!!
I can’t even begin to tell you how relieved and grateful I was that he was okay and pain free. Especially knowing how bad it could have been. I kept checking on him through the night to make sure he was still okay. You know us moms, we always fear the worst!
Anyways, I thought I’d share what worked for us just in case anyone is doing their own emergency google search for what to do when bitten by one of these bugs- which, by the way, Titus has decided to rename “Dumb Bug”- which he’s not normally allowed to say but he totally earned the right to call it just about whatever he wants.
Here are some ways to prevent assassin bugs from entering your property. I’ll preface this by saying that I am adamantly opposed to pesticides, especially since I have children and don’t want nasty chemicals anywhere near my little ones. Many people use things like Bifen granules to keep assassin bugs away, but that simply was not an option for me. Plus, assassin bugs can be really beneficial for your garden, and since I’ve never seen more than a few around the property anyway, I didn’t exactly see the use of exterminating them all.
If wheel bugs ever prove to be a major nuisance on my property, or if the kids are bit again, I will probably take some steps to repel them in a more natural way. One of the best home remedies is lemon eucalyptus. All you need is organic sunflower oil and lemon eucalyptus oil. You can add a few drops of lemon eucalyptus oil to about thirty drops of sunflower oil, and then put it into a spray bottle. Spray it anywhere around your home that wheel bugs are found, just don’t let it get into the hands of your kids, as it can cause itching if used in excess.
If you’re bitten by a wheel bug, you will know it!
You will be in intense pain, as Titus was, and need instant treatment. Applying antiseptic is a good first step, but you might want to also take an oral analgesic, like ibuprofen, if you are in uncontrollable pain. You usually don’t need to go to the doctor, as the most a doctor can do in a non- life-threating reaction is to prescribe a topical corticosteroid, which I wasn’t really interested in giving to Titus anyway. Applying ice is a good way to reduce any swelling or itching.
Before you administer any treatments, make sure you thoroughly wash the area with soap and water. These bugs come into contact with all manner of disgusting locales, bacteria, and other creatures, so you want to make sure you clean your wound first. Ideally, as I already mentioned, you would also want to apply an antiseptic shortly after to remove any bacteria or disease-causing agents from your skin.
As your wound heals, you will want to make sure you continue to keep it clean. Covering the area with a bandage is a good idea to keep you from digging at it or introducing new diseases, but you should change it regularly and then clean the skin underneath.
There are several other unique home remedies you can use to control the itching and pain caused by a wheel bug bite. Interestingly, banana peels are a common treatment for these injuries. Since they have calcium and potassium in them, rubbing them on the bite can help calm the angry skin and also help speed up healing. Honey works in a similar way, offering antibacterial and antiseptic properties to prevent the skin from breaking as well as to prevent further infection.
Aloe vera is another well-known treatment for any kind of rash or sting. It has anti-inflammatory properties, so it’s good at calming red, angry skin and reducing the amount of pain that you are in. Simply mash up several Aloe vera leaves to make a paste, and apply it to the wounded area. Some homesteaders have also claimed that using a peach flower tincture can help prevent your body’s excessive immune response to a wheel bug sting. It can help draw out the venom and relieve the pain from a bite.
Turmeric is another good option. This can reduce swelling, and will also help increase the collagen in your skin, so the wound will heal faster. Other popular remedies and home treatments for wheel bug bites include coconut oil, Indian lilac (aka neem), garlic, plantain (as I mentioned), lemon balm, green tea, tea tree oil, vinegar, and basil. Experiment with one or all of these home remedies until you find the option that works best for you. Since these are all-natural, you don’t have to worry about side effects or adverse reactions, but use them sparingly to prevent any skin sensitivity from occurring.
A reaction to a wheel bug bite can last for several days, at the very least hanging on for about forty-eight hours. While serious allergic reactions are rare, a normal reaction on its own is painful enough, so it’s important to take quick action to prevent excess suffering.
What’s really important is to determine which type of assassin bug you were bitten by, because if it was not a wheel bug and was instead a more dangerous variety of assassin bug, you do need to see a doctor. He will need to rule out any symptoms of early Chagas disease, which can include symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, fever, or rash. A telltale sign of this disease is swelling of the eyelids. If you suspect a bite from a western bloodsucking conenose, even if it’s not presenting any symptoms or is not painful, get yourself to the doctor’s immediately.
And now he knows, never touch one of those things again! I hate that he had to learn the hardest way! Oh, and by the way, turns out God created the Wheel Bug to help with garden pests. It’s a very beneficial insect to have around. Just be sure not to pick one up!