Nature’s own Assassin

    

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Carefully concealing itself, whilst watching and waiting for its next victim, is the Assassin bug. This bug is the hit man of the insect world, striking fear into the heart of every other living insect it comes across. It is known to attack quickly, paralyzing its prey, and then taking it out mercilessly!

This creature belongs to a large diverse family of around 7000 predatory insects, referred to as Reduviidae (meaning “hangnail” or “remnant”). What sets this bug apart from other creepy crawlies is its mouthpart; a needle-like structure which is designed to suck the juices from plants, other insects and even some mammals (such as bats and humans)!

This piercing mouthpart, which is referred to as a rostrum, fits into a groove in the prosternum. These murderous bugs use their long rostrum as their deadly weapon of choice; injecting toxic saliva into their prey. The saliva acts as an anesthetic, numbing the prey to allow the paralyzing effect to take place within 3-5 seconds. After 15 seconds the prey is completely paralyzed and unable to move. The chemicals in the Assassin bug’s saliva liquefy the tissues while the prey is still alive! The Assassin bug then sucks these out of the helpless victim. When the Assassin bug is done, 40-60% of the prey’s insides have been sucked out as a liquid lunch. This process takes place though extra-oral digestion, which means that the Assassin bug is able to pre-digest the tissues with enzymes contained in its saliva before ingesting the insect’s insides.

This murderous insect does not only rely on its rostrum, but also has antennae as long as its body which gathers “intel” on its prey. It is shrewd in its stalking abilities. This master of deception is able to get relatively close to its prey, making its footsteps irregular to sound like ordinary background noise.

It has been reported that this super sleuth bug stalks spiders, watching their every move. The Assassin bug plucks the silk strings from spider’s web, mimicking a prey and creating the same vibrations that struggling prey would (phys.org 2010). As the spider is lured closer – thinking that it has trapped a meal – the murderer taps it on its head with its antennae, positioning the spider for the kill and then swiftly stabs and kills the spider within seconds.

As if stalking its preys and sucking the life out of them isn’t enough for the Assassin bug, it also wears the bodies of dead insects after it has devoured their insides. This is a defense mechanism to ward off its enemies. Very clever. This masked hunter also uses its rostrum to stridulate with; producing rattling sounds in order to intimidate their predators. Dynamite does indeed come in small packages, as this bug ranges from only 4-40mm in size (depending on its species). Everything about this six-legged creature resembles that of a smooth operator; a tapered head and elongated neck, long legs and a curved beak. Most species are dark in colour with shades of brown, black, red, or orange.

Even though these insects are terrifying, they can be beneficial in balancing out insect populations, mainly in forests. As with most situations, looks can be deceiving. Some species feed on bed bugs and cockroaches, and are used as a form of pest control. It is known that farmers breed with Reduviidae to protect their crops.  Assassin bugs can provide a valuable service around the garden if treated with respect, although based on the information above on this bug, I would probably be the first one to bug off if ever confronted by this creature!

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