Cochise County Insects: The Side Flange Bug

Caveat: It definitely lives in Cochise County, it’s clearly an insect, and it’s obviously a bug–but the “side flange bug” moniker was tacked onto the tiny critter just minutes ago. It might be a beetle. It might be a true bug. Whatever it is, four hours of hammering the Internet accomplished nothing. All attempts to identify the species were fruitless.

So I stopped, took a break, and ate a bowl of raspberries. That was fruitful.

Rather than waste the entire night with nothing to show for it, here’s what we know so far (including photos) about this miniscule insect.

    1. Great hatches of the beasties manifest in pretty cool weather.

This is December 10, 2013. Even here in southern Cochise County, Arizona, one mile from the Mexican border, it’s apparent that winter is on its way. Last night’s low temperature hit somewhere in the mid-twenties at our place. Daytime highs have been in the fifties, but no more than that.

    2. They swarm all over any building surface they can find.

For the last several days, these side flange bugs have been observed roaming around on the little structure that houses our passive solar hot water tank. All of the photos for this page were taken there. They’ve also been busy atop the steel roofing panels of the Border Fort itself, though in fewer numbers, and atop the raw OSB strand board sheathing wood of the back porch that’s still under construction.

Roofing felt (tarpaper) was added to that porch roof this afternoon. A few dozen of these side flange bugs were still there when the layers of 30 lb. roofing felt fell on them from above; what they thought about that, I have no idea.

    3. They really do have side flanges.

I can’t recall ever noticing an insect of any sort that possessed these distinctive flanges. It looks for all the world like the top half of the bug was heat-sealed around the edges, held together with some sort of hot glue carapace welding job.

    4. The larger individuals are no more than 1/16″ or so in length, but there is considerable difference in size in the side flange bug population.

In the header photo, as well as in the photos that follow this text, those size differences really stand out.

These Cochise County side flange bugs aren't messing around; there are a lot of them on the various surface of this structure in Cochise County this December.

These Cochise County side flange bugs aren’t messing around; there are a lot of them on the various surfaces of this structure in Cochise County this December.

This photo shows the Cochise County insect's side flange structure clearly and also reveals the huge differences in size between individuals.

This photo shows the Cochise County insect’s side flange structure clearly and also reveals the huge differences in size between individuals.

    5. They’re pretty active little critters.

Although the bugs didn’t seem particularly alarmed at the presence of a looming camera lens, it was necessary to pay close attention when taking pictures. They’re capable of stopping for a while, but for much of the time they’re on the move.

    6. Their abdomens are quite decorative.

Before the “right” photo showed up on the computer screen, I was calling these little fellows (or gals, whichever they may be) “cinnamon butts”. A closer look, however–such as in the photo immediately above–reveals a remarkable visual impact for the eyeball sharp enough to catch it. The abdomen is somewhat translucent, with at least one narrow brown cross band plus several other bands that look like dotted lines.

    7. The abdomen is widest, then the thorax, with the head tapering down to a narrow nose-point finish.

In the largest individuals, the overall perimeter of the critter resembles a sort of narrow guitar pick–but in the smaller ones, there’s a definite, narrowing waistline, with the beginning of the thorax being noticeably narrower than the ending of the abdomen area.

    8. The antennae have something of a dotted line pattern, too.

Let’s see if we can find a photo that shows that antenna pattern clearly.

The antennae of the Cochise County side flange bugs have sort of a dotted line color pattern.

The antennae of the Cochise County side flange bugs have sort of a dotted line color pattern.

Here’s a photo that really provides a sense of scale. The screw head shown (upper right) is 11/32″ in diameter. The metal dominating the scene is simply the corner of one of the hinges that allow the lid on the solar hot water tank enclosure to be lifted to let out excessive heat buildup during hot summer days. (It turns out that’s not necessary, not ever, but when I built the system, there was no way to be sure in advance.)

The screw head (top center) is 11/32" in diameter.  The Cochise County side flange bug (lower left corner) as roughly 1/16" in length.

The screw head (top center) is 11/32″ in diameter. The Cochise County side flange bug (lower left corner) as roughly 1/16″ in length.

    9. From above, the bug’s abdomen appears as one solid color (cinnamon brown) with a single light colored stripe running up the center of the dorsal thorax.

There is some puzzlement here. From certain angles, it looks like those darker thorax parts might actually be vestigial wings. However, I’ve never seen one of these little beasties fly or even make any obvious attempt to do so. It would take a different camera than my Canon PowerShot to magnify things crisply enough to be sure: Is that a carapace over that thorax? Only your entomologist knows for sure.

Speaking of entomologists, a link to this page will be emailed to the entomology department at the University of Arizona. Those folks can probably eyeball these photos and identify the real name (including scientific nomenclature) for this species. Bet they don’t even break a sweat.

In the meantime, any and all help from readers is more than welcome, as usual.

There was one picture from this afternoon’s photo op that sort of just…got me all excited as a photographer. The side flange bug was standing on one of the sheets of 1/4″ tempered glass that allow the sun to warm the water in our passive solar tank. Had it been a bit to the left, its shadow would have been lost somewhere in the interior of the enclosure. As it happened, though, Ms. Bug (just guessing the gender) was positioned out toward the right edge…and the shadow was caught and held by the painted wood surface of the framing that holds the glass in place.


This Cochise County side flange bug casts its shadow through 1/4" of tempered glass and onto the painted wood beneath.

This Cochise County side flange bug casts its shadow through 1/4″ of tempered glass and onto the painted wood beneath.

It’s nice that all of these side flange bugs have been observed outside of the dwelling. If they did make it inside, though, Zach’s last pest control treatment (from when he had to wipe out a harvester ant invasion for us) most likely has thousands of deadly poison micro-crystals just waiting for them to be foolish enough to wander by.

Like we said, there are a lot of them out there at the moment.

Like we said, there are a lot of these little side flange bugs out there....

Like we said, there are a lot of these little side flange bugs out there….

In sunshine or in shadow....

In sunshine or in shadow….

Another view.

Another view.

This is probably the best dorsal close up shot of the bunch.

This is probably the best dorsal close up shot of the bunch.

Group shot.

Group shot.

And…that’s it for now. As soon as we get a firm identification for these Cochise County side flange bugs, the title, the text, and the photo captions will of course be updated–but we’re keeping the side flange part in there, too. It’s just too cool to throw away.

Who knows? Perhaps the scientific name will turn out to be contra illi labium, Latin for “the ledge”–at least according to Google Translate. A ledge is not precisely the same as a side flange, but it might be close enough.

16 thoughts on “Cochise County Insects: The Side Flange Bug

  1. Interesting bugs. I have seen some larger, green specimens here. I don’t know if they are related, but they definitely look the same. They are about 1/2 inch, so definitely larger. The green was iridescent, like on a big green fly. They were definitely prettier.

  2. Wow. Pam looked at these photos and freaked; she considers them “ugly bugs”. I’m not sure what her reaction would be to your big, iridescent green versions. I just mentioned them to her, but she gave sort of a grunt and ignored me. She’s baking a huge sweet potato in the oven (the real oven, not the microwave) and is totally focused on that.:)

  3. LOL, I read your comment and thought you wrote sweet potato pie. I was going to write ‘Who cares about bugs, when there is pie baking.’ LOL

  4. No, not sweet potato pie. Pie might have distracted me as well. 🙂

    I did take a quick look at the side flange bugs this afternoon before going to work on the back porch roof. They were as busy as ever, crawling all over the solar hot water tank enclosure.

    Speaking of hot water, Pam has started chanting, “Hot water in two weeks! Hot water in two weeks!” She got me to give her an ETA for the new propane powered hot water tank’s activation. I went out on a limb and said year end, or close to it. She shortened that up to somewhere around Christmas, and I do have to admit that would be a fine Christmas present.

    At least, after checking on the bugs, I did get the steel roof panels installed on the porch roof. But I’d forgotten that I needed longer screws to install the ridge cap. Had to run to Sutherland’s to get those. Stopped at the Post Office, and ended up being a close quarters eyewitness to a fender bender. After dark when I got home…so it’s tomorrow for the ridge cap.

    It’ll be interesting to see how long those bugs stay active as we move more deeply into winter.

  5. I never thought of the turtle comparison, but the do look a bit like that, don’t they? No clue what’s bring them out (or what they’re after). This is the first year we’ve noticed them, but of course that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the first year they’ve been active this way. I’m perfectly capable of ignoring a lot of “stuff”, including these bugs. I had noticed them but hadn’t given them much thought until Zach asked what they were.

    Still don’t know that, either. 🙂

  6. Hello did you ever find out what these bugs were called? I live in Southern California. We took our dogs walking 2 days ago and noticed them on the ground one block over. We thought they were ants. We walked a little farther and they stopped. No bugs past that block. Well today they are on our block. All on the street and in our yard. We sprayed earlier and they went away. They came back with vengeance. It’s literally a festation of millions!!!!! We talked to our neighbors and they are wondering the same thing. I took some photos and they are the exact same bug you have captured. There on the street in mass amounts.

  7. Olivia, I thought I had identified them…but I guess not. Can’t see any proof of having done so, anyway, and I’m reasonably certain I would have posted an update if I had. I do understand when you describe your situation as a “festation of millions,” though. When they do show up, they seem to show up in “flash mob” numbers. If you happen to be chatting with a friendly entomologist at the County or University offices–and find out–please do let the rest of us know!

  8. They hit our house today, north phoenix around union hills. Literally 100’00s of thousand of them to a million all over the north back side of house. They dont appear to be doing anything malicious save for freaking the woman out. Theyre not trying to really get in the house and the few tha have look to be lost – though theres plenty of opportunity for them to get inside (doggie doors, cracks etc). Will google a bit more but I guess they’ll pass when theyre bored!m Keep you posted if it turns out to be like creepshow with the roaches, bleh.

  9. Thanks for the input! That’s quite a mob you’ve got there. No, they’ve never seemed malicious in any way around here, no creepiness whatsoever.

  10. Did you ever find out what these were? They’re covering the side of my house in Tucson

  11. No, Ayila, I never did. Now that you’ve jogged my elbow a bit, I’m not sure I even followed up with a query to a university entomologist like I said I would. So I’m sending an email now to one (entomologist) whose credentials look like he can possible either identify the bug or refer me to someone who can. Hopefully, I’ll get a response in the next week or two.

  12. Likewise in New River, AZ, just north of Desert Hills. Critters are everywhere after the wet winter we had with all the weeds. A pest control company only knows them as Side Flange bugs too. Quite the conundrum you started 🙂

  13. I’ve got two conflicting answers.
    I found online the “false cinch bug”, and the past control company a friend hired agreed.
    I however took a sample to truly Nolan, and they called it a “Scentless Plant Bug”.
    I’m wondering if these aren’t all just the same thing.

  14. Fearless Phil: Thanks for the insight–guess I did start something!
    Ayila: I followed your online checking and agree these could MAYBE be false chinch bugs. The false chinch Google Images do look close…but not exact, and the photos that clearly ARE these Side Flange critters are asking rather than telling, so personally, I still think it’s an open question. One thing I just Googled and found out is that while there are 91,000 DESCRIBED insect species in the United States, there are also 73,000 UNDESCRIBED species as well. And if they’ve not been described, obviously, they’ve not been named, either.

    As for the scentless plant bug, there are quite a few web pages devoted to same–with some pages devoted to a single species and other pages pointing out that “scentless plant bugs” are an entire FAMILY of bugs, not just one species. I found one species (image) that looked close enough to inspire Truly Nolen’s opinion, and the same pesticide would likely eradicate our Side Flange guys effectively, but…for me, at least, the mystery continues.

    Disappointing note: My email to an esteemed entomologist has gone unanswered. Maybe I need to find an entomologist who’s not quite so esteemed… 😀

  15. I forgot I should have mentioned that he specifically mentioned that he said these are two levels of nymphs, And look nothing like the adults; Which significantly complicates the whole question.
    But I’m happy with the family line, it just tells me I don’t need to get rid of them cause they’re not gonna eat my house or anything.
    ^.^ thanks for your continued search!

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