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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Killers in the Gardens

YES . . . assassins are in the Frog & PenguINN wildflower gardens, but they’re not packing weapons in the traditional way.

What are they using?  

Their weapon is a proboscis – in other words, a beak


As you may have figured out, our assassins are insects, aptly called assassin bugs. They’ve earned their name by their manner of lying in ambush for their insect prey.
assassin bug0623 (1)Unlike other bugs of pray, for example a Praying mantis, these insects don’t devour the prey in ways you might suspect, like eating it.  Their “kill” method is to use the proboscis to inject a toxin that paralyzes the victim and then dissolves its tissue. And, here’s the gross part – the assassin bug then sucks up the other bug's tissues. The legs of some of assassin bugs are covered in tiny hairs that  make them sticky to hold onto their prey while they feed.

OK, this isn’t a pretty description of their modus operandi  (method of operation), a term usually applied to criminals, and I couldn’t resist using it here.

But  there's (a little) good news . . . Since it’s paralyzed, the victim doesn’t feel pain. The toxic saliva is commonly effective at killing much bigger prey than the itself. Assassin bugs attack many garden pests, such as flies, mosquitoes, beetles and large caterpillars. Most of these are pests to gardeners and farmers, like Grenville. But, sometimes, bees fall victim to their evil ways.
WARNING – insect death scene below
assassain bug collage
Not only do these insects attack other insects, but they can – when other food isn't available – attack each other. Females are considered better “assassins”  as they need protein to produce eggs.

And, in case you were wondering . . .  NO, this bug is definitely NOT one to be petted – unlike bumblebees.

Because . . . Assassin bugs can transmit diseases to humans and animals, like Chaga's disease, a parasitic infection commonly transmitted to humans and other mammals by infectious agents, such as blood-sucking insects. There is currently no vaccine against Chagas disease. Chagas disease is named after the Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas, who discovered the disease in 1909.

assassin bug0623 (2)How to ID an Assassin Bug . . . Most species are dark in color with hues of brown, black, red, or orange. They most commonly have an elongated head with a distinct narrowed neck, long legs, and a prominent, segmented tube for feeding.


WAIT, there’s another killer lurking in the gardens – the Ambush bug, which kills like the assassin bug but has some differences. 

This is a stockier bug;; also their coloring lets them sit on flowers sometimes undetected while they lie in wait for victims.  The ambush ambush bug  (2)bug has thick front legs used to snatch its prey. It also has a shorter, less narrow head than the assassin bug.

The mouth  is shaped like a spike that is plunged into the body of its prey;  the proboscis is used to jab the victim before the fluids are sucked out.
Ambush bugs have an odd shape, with lateral extensions and rounded projections. It can fly but not well and ambush bug  (11)often falls victim to other predatory bugs like a praying mantis, spiders and (like assassin bugs) even their own kind. Sometimes, they are eaten by rodents and birds.

Assassin and ambush bugs belong to the Hemiptera order of insects. The defining feature of hemipterans is possession of mouthparts where the mandibles and maxillae have evolved into a proboscis, sheathed within a modified labium to form a “beak” or “rostrum” which is capable of piercing tissues and sucking fluids.

Yes, these killers employ unpleasant death methods, but are useful and beneficial in any garden. We let them dine on any pests they can find, cause usually those are ones we don’t want around. But, we’re sorry they include bees on their “hit” list.

6 comments:

Daisy said...

Who would suspect such violence right in the back yard!! ;) Neat pictures, Beatrice and informative post.

Elaine said...

He certainly looks the part of an assasin. Good thing they aren't bigger! We would all be running and screaming. I don't think we have them here although we do have bugs aplenty.

possum said...

The world of the little critters is fascinating - totally amazing. SO many of us have no idea what "lurks" right outside our windows!

Anvilcloud said...

Nature red in tooth and claw.

thecottagebythecranelakeolof1 said...

What nasty but still so interesting bugs!! They have just the right names as well :-) I don´t think we have anything like these over here, perhaps I should import some so they could eat lots of the flies I have here :-) :-) :-)

Have a great day!
Christer.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Yes, Daisy, lots of violence in our own backyard.
Possum, it sure is interesting to be able to see it too, even if at times it's unpleasant.
Elaine, larger versions might be good in a horror film, but only if it was fiction.
AC, so true.
Christer, are you sure you don't have any of these around your yard? They are not that common to spot. I've only seen a few but of course am not always out looking for them.

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