This is a stealthy, predatory insect, and it’s one of my favorites in the world of entomology: Meet the Assassin Bug (aw, isn’t it cute?). From the family of Reduviidae insects, these make up one of the most diverse species of the Hemiptera order of insects (there are around 7000 different kinds).  Moreover, these tiny guys come in various assortments of color; they can be brown, black, red, or orange. They are found in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America (as far south as southern Argentina).

Assassin bugs range from 4 to 40 mm in length and are known most exclusively for their formidable weapon–a sharp, curved, hypodermic needle-like structure on their heads called a “rostrum“. Most species have a preference to dine and feed exclusively on… well, any insect they can sneak up on and catch; however, some species are actually blood suckers. Several species are known as kissing bugs, because they tend to bite sleeping  humans in the soft tissue around the lips and eyes (yeah, good luck sleeping tonight).

And there is more to the formidable weapon that these little beasts wield. They cane use their long rostrum to inject a debilitating saliva that liquefies the insides of their prey, which are subsequently sucked out.

They move like a thief in the night, mimicking the subtleties of leaves that move when the air rustles them, yet not actually making a sound. With their massive antennae, they sense their unsuspecting prey and move into position. With precision, it impales the target and grasps on with its front legs. In 3 to 5 seconds, the poor creature is immobilized completely from the deadly venom. In 15 seconds, the prey is completely helpless as the assassin bug starts pumping digestive enzymes into the insect’s body. This begins the feeding process of slurping up the liquefied bug’s insides while it is still alive.

In some species (like the one depicted here on this post), it uses the empty carapaces of the insect’s shell further still. After the assassin bug drains the insects husk dry, it attaches the exoskeleton of its vanquished prey (in this case ant bodies) to its back using an adhesive secretion. It acquires them like trophies of war, while simultaneously bolstering its own armor for protection. A fearsome visage that equally matches its fearsome reputation.

Watch a cool video on the assassin bug attacking a grasshopper and a spider…


 Further Reading: On Chagas Disease and kissing bugs.


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