Cool Creature of the Month

Assassin Bug

With a worldwide range of over 7,000 species, these insects belong to the order Hemiptera (true bugs) and the family Reduviidae. They range in size from 5mm to 40mm (0.2 to 1.6 inches) long.

Known as assassin bugs, these ambush predators have many tools to catch and dispatch their prey. Their arms have hooks or hairs with which to hold onto their prey. They use their long rostrums to inject a lethal saliva that liquefies the insides of the prey, which are then sucked out.

Many young assassin bugs camouflage themselves by attaching debris and insect remains to their bodies. One species, Reduvius personatus, covers itself with dust. Some species feed on pests such as cockroaches or bedbugs. Other species feed on millipedes or ants.

A few species of assassin bug feed only on blood. These are known as kissing bugs, because they tend to bite sleeping humans in the soft tissue around the lips and eyes. This is a huge problem in Central and South America, where native species can transmit the potentially fatal Chagas disease.

Some species of assassin bugs are being studied for their venomous saliva, which shows promise in fighting some human bacterial infections.

Assassin bugs can and will defend themselves with a painful stab from the proboscis (rostrum), so leave them alone.

Photos: (1) John Flannery, CC BY-SA 2.0; (2) Anne Reeves, CC BY-ND 2.0; (3) Judy Gallagher, CC BY 2.0

The wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) is named after the cog-shaped mantle on its back.

Pale green assassin bug (Zelus luridus) hoping to make a meal of a ladybug. Assassin bugs can catch and consume prey many times larger than themselves.

Red bull assassin bug (Repipta tauruswith prey.