Aug 13 2012
These flowers look beautiful and innocent, visited by butterflies and bees, but there are assassins in their midst.
I should have known there would be predatory insects in this setting but I was surprised to learn about assassin bugs.
There are over 4,000 species of them, all characterized by a short 3-segmented curved beak that lies in a groove between their raptorial front legs. They eat by sucking liquids. The beak is their killing tool. Their victims are insects, caterpillars and bees.
After grabbing his victim with his front legs an assassin bug brings his beak forward, stabs his victim, and injects enzyme-filled saliva that paralyzes the victim and liquifies his insides. The assassin bug then sucks the liquified innards out of his prey.
You can see the deadly beak curled under the head of the assassin bug pictured below. There are graphic photos of these bugs eating insects, but I’ll spare you.
Most assassin bugs are active hunters on trees, bushes and weeds but one group, aptly named ambush bugs, lies in wait on flowers. They’re camouflaged by yellow, orange or red body parts so their victims can’t see them. Then they pounce.
This ambush bug matches the black-eyed susan and wears pollen as a disguise. He even appears to be smiling for the camera. Don’t be fooled.
Fortunately the vast majority of assassin bugs are uninterested in mammals and won’t bite humans unless mishandled.
I shouldn’t be surprised by that either. Never mishandle an assassin.
(photo credits: flowers by Kate St. John.
Assassin bug (UGA1435167) by Clemson University, USDA Cooperative Extension, Bugwood.org
Ambush bug (UGA2106054) by David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org)