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Assassin bugs are common and wide spread throughout the world, so named because of the speed with which they grasp and poison their prey. There are around 3,000 species of this insect, varying in size from a few millimeters to three or four centimeters. Some of the species are long and thin making them appear much like a mantis while others are more solid and typically bug like. They have two pairs of wings and a powerful curved beak with which they pierce their prey to suck out the tissues.
Assassin bugs can be found on old walls, in houses or out buildings, deciduous trees, coniferous trees, sand dunes, under stones, on flowers and even in old birds nest. These bugs will often produce a sound when touched caused by the scraping of a rigid groove under the head called the prosternum. All of this species are carnivorous. Many are extremely active and efficient hunters with a pair of powerful, jack knife fore limbs for grasping their prey. At the end of these limbs are adhesive pads which are made up of thousands of tiny hairs covered by a thin film of oil. These tend to stick to their prey much like a sticky burr. In some species these pads have evolved into stickier pads that allows them to hold on to hairy bodied prey such as bees.
Most assassin bugs look much like the insects on which they prey, making it easy to approach and seize their victims. The majority of the species feed on gnats, midges, bark lice, ants, gall forming aphids, silverfish, flies, cockroaches, bed bugs and harvestmen. Since these are small insects which are harmful in some way to man the assassin bug is welcome in most man made environments. In fact the huge African assassin bug is a predator of the large rhinoceros beetle which is a pest of most coconut plantations. It attacks this heavily armored titan by thrusting its beak through the joints between the legs and body. Like all carnivorous insects, the assassin bug feeds by external digestion. Pushing their rostrum into the victim's body, they inject a highly toxic fluid which acts on the nerves and muscles before breaking down the body tissue. The effects of their saliva are almost immediate.
Not all assassin bugs feed on other insects or invertebrates. The tropical Triatominae is known to attack birds, mammals and reptiles and suck their blood. Another species attacks at night by coming into the bedrooms and is said to have a bite that feels like and electric shock. Assassin bugs are preyed on by many enemies including birds and reptiles. These bugs are known to mate several times, with egg laying beginning about a week after the first mating. Females lay 3 to 5 eggs daily with the final total being between 50 and 150 eggs. Most of the eggs are laid between the middle of June and September, hatching in about 20 days. The larvae will immediately camouflage themselves against predators by assuming a covering of dust and repeating this procedure after each molt.
It is an interesting theory that in the later years of Darwins life he suffered from a strange incurable illness which was never diagnosed. The symptoms make some believe that his illness stemmed from his encounter with the assassin bug which carries trypanosomes. Trypanosomes are minute protistants that cause disease.