Identification Key to the Principal Families of Florida Heteroptera
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Species T. Neocalifornicus
..............................HEMIPTERA Suborder HETEROPTERA True bugs
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Giant mesquite bug
The giant mesquite bug is an insect of the order Hemiptera, or the True bugs. As a member of the family Coreidae, it is a leaf-footed bug. As the common name implies, it is a large bug that feeds on mesquite trees of the American Southwest and Northwestern Mexico. Coreidae is a large family of predominantly sap-suckling insects in the Hemipteran suborder Heteroptera.
Thasus neocalifornicus inhabits the Sonoran Desert from southwestern Arizona to the Mexican state of Baja California Sur and can be plentiful depending on the season. They have also been found in the state of Texas and the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Sonora. Most populations in the United States occur in the Tucson area, and around the southern tip of Baja California Sur in Mexico. It is the only species in the genus Thasus known to occur in the United States.
The common names of the Coreidae vary regionally. Leaf-footed bug refers to leaf-like expansions on the legs of some species, generally on the hind tibiae. In North America, the pest status of species such as Anasa tristis on squash plants and other cucurbits gave rise to the name squash bugs. The Coreidae are called twig-wilters or tip-wilters in parts of Africa and Australia because many species feed on young twigs, injecting enzymes that macerate the tissues of the growing tips and cause them to wilt abruptly.
This species is the largest terrestrial member of the suborder Heteroptera. Adults are around two inches in length. The flightless nymphs have more vibrant coloration and complex patterning. They have an aposematic white and red coloration, while adults are dark brown with crimson and black striped legs and antennae. The antennae are setaceous and feature a small disc-like nodule about two thirds of the way up. The hind femora of the adults are widened and feature spikes along the inner edge that are more pronounced in males. It is the lone member of this genus to have third and fourth antennal segments that are equal or subequal. Between the wing bases on the dorsal thorax lies a triangular structure called the scutellum. This species was mistaken for T. gigas or T. acutangulus until it was distinguished in 1995.
They can emit an odorous chemical that is meant to deter predators from eating them. The aroma is believed to change as they mature. It is thought that this change reflects the different types of predators the bug encounters at particular life stages.
The giant mesquite bug feeds on the sugary seedpods and sap of mesquite trees. Both adults and nymphs exhibit similar feeding habits, and both stages are often found congregated on the same tree.