Entomology (Study of Bugs)/Bug ID please

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Question
Hi Ed,

I was hoping you could help me ID an insect.  Its pretty large and freaks me out, but I feel like if I understand what it is, I'll be less afraid of it.

I don't have a picture, but I can link to a few pictures of a few different bugs that look very similar to it:

http://bugguide.net/node/view/497365/bgpage
http://bugguide.net/node/view/428784/bgpage
http://www.whatsthatbug.com/2006/09/23/mexican-potato-bug/

This bug differs from the ones in the pictures in a few ways:
1) Its abdomen has dim horizontal stripes, much like many bees have.  
2) It has large, thick legs, and especially large black legs, almost like a cricket or potato bug.

Actually, to be honest, it looks a lot like a potato bug, judging by the criteria I just described, plus the fact that its a lot bigger than most insects I've encountered.  But, its black.

http://www.whatsthatbug.com/2006/09/23/mexican-potato-bug/

Let's see.. other details.. really small thorax, is mostly all abdomen.  Its head reminds me of an ant's.  Oh, and I'm in California, in the San Francisco Bay Area.. Berkeley to be exact.

Any information would be really helpful, especially regarding whether its hazardous(not just biting but, reproducing, eating clothes, etc.).  Let me know if I can give you any more information.

Thanks!
--Jakeg

Answer
Dear Jake - I hesitate to attempt a definitive identification from your verbal description, as it could fit several different insects. Could you please look at the following images and then tell me which comes closest to what you have?
1. Jerusalem cricket - http://tinyurl.com/d34nl4p
2. Mormon cricket - http://tinyurl.com/c76zub9
3. Great grig - http://tinyurl.com/cosj94t
4. Leaf-footed bug - http://tinyurl.com/bqpjwtf

If none of these seem appropriate, I can only suggest that you contact your county office of the University of California's Cooperative Extension Service (see http://tinyurl.com/cqlhhck for contact information). These offices usually are a good resource when dealing with most home/yard/garden pest problems.

Hope this helps,
Saugy

Entomology (Study of Bugs)

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Ed Saugstad

Expertise

Will accept most questions in general entomology, including those related to medical entomology, taxonomy, ecology, arthropod surveillance, and pest management. If you are requesting a 'mystery bug' identification, PLEASE either attach an image to your question, or post an image on a web page (such as Flickr) so that I can look at it, as verbal descriptions frequently are insufficient for a definitive identification.

Experience

21 years in the U.S. Army as a medical entomologist; duties varied from surveillance of pest populations (including mosquitoes, cockroaches, ticks, and stored products pests) to conducting research on mosquito-virus ecological relationships and mosquito faunal studies. Ten years as a civilian analyst for the Department of Defense, primarily on distribution of vector-borne diseases worldwide. Limited experience on surveillance of agricultural insects in North Dakota and Indiana.

Organizations
Entomological Society of America, West Virginia Entomological Society, Society for Vector Ecology, National Speleological Society, West Virginia Association for Cave Studies.

Publications
American Journal of Public Health, Contributions of the American Entomological Institute, Japanese Journal of Sanitary Zoology, Journal of Economic Entomology, Mosquito News, and Mosquito Systematics.

Education/Credentials
B.S. in entomology from North Dakota State University in 1963, M.S. in entomology from Purdue University in 1967.

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