Thursday, May 15, 2008

Assassin Bugs

by Donna L. Watkins


© 2006 Donna L. Watkins - Assassin Bug
Assassin bugs are considered beneficial insects because they reduce populations of garden pests. There are nearly 3000 species of assassin bugs and they are found throughout most of the world. They earned this name because of the speed at which they grab and poison their prey.

They come in many sizes and colors and most have two pairs of wings. They have sticky pads on the powerful forelegs which are made from thousands of tiny hairs. This keeps their victims from getting away. One thing they all have is a powerful, curved rostrum, or beak.

They feed by external digestion, which means that they push their beak into their victims body and inject a very toxic, or poisonous, liquid that affects the nerves and liquifies the muscles and tissues of their prey. Most other insects that eat like this have two tubes in their beak; one for injecting the fluid and one for sucking in the food, but assassin bugs have only one large tube that does both jobs. This larger tube allows them to inject a larger amount of the toxic digestive fluid so that prey many times their size can be quickly overcome.

Some of them sit and wait for their prey while others hunt for them. Cockroaches die in 3 or 4 seconds and caterpillars more than 400 times the assassin bugs weight can die in only 10 seconds. A feast this size can last for days or even weeks. Predators that attack these bugs include birds and reptiles. Some of the species have developed a defense-mechanism where they use their beak to squirt their venom as far as a foot at the attacker.

The female assassin bug rubs the resin of the camphor plant on her belly to gather a good store of it. Then, when she lays her eggs, she coats them with the resin she gathered. The resin acts like mothballs do for moths - it keeps ants from eating the eggs. What an incredible God of Creation!

Most assassin bugs lay their eggs in Fall in cracks and crevices filled with leaves. The eggs hatch the following Spring and the nymphs look a lot like the adults, but are smaller. They will pass through five molts becoming a full-sized adult after the last one. These adults generally Winter over and begin a new generation the following year.

© 2006 Donna L. Watkins - Assassin Bug
Wheel bugs (the photo shown here) are rather uncommon, but attract attention when found due to their bizarre appearance. The wheel bug is a "monster" of the insect world being a dreaded foe of other insects. It is an assassin bug that stalks its prey traveling around till it finds something.

They are voracious predators, attacking large caterpillars, such as tomato hornworms. They will not bite humans readily, but most of these assassin bugs, if handled carelessly, can inflict a very painful bite, causing a severe reaction for some people.

Their saliva can cause severe irritation of the eyes and nose and even temporary blindness in humans, so it's best to let them do their garden work for you unbothered.

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