Assassin Bug Types – 8 Main Types Guide
Assassin bugs. It’s a cool name for a cool creature. And if it sounds a little scary, that’s only because assassin bugs are a little scary. Especially if you’re another insect. But even for humans, these bugs can pose a big problem. But this large family contains many different types of assassin bugs, and in this article, we are going to look at a few different species of assassin bugs that are out there.
Assassin bugs get their name from the fact that they feed on other bugs. These insects have adopted a variety of different methods of hunting other insects so that they can kill and eat them. And it’s these different methods, along with the variations in their specialized bodies, that sets the different types of assassin bugs apart.
Assassin bugs vary in size from o.2 to 1.6 inches, or 5 to 40 mm. They have a narrow head that is separated from the rest of their body by a thin ‘neck’. They also have a curved beak that lies tucked away in a groove between the front legs when not in use. They use this beak for sucking fluids from the other insects that they catch and feed on, although some species of assassin bugs have found other uses for this weapon-like appendage. Read on and learn about some of the approximately 7,000 different types of assassin bugs.
What Are the Different Types of Assassin Bugs?
1. Black Corsair
As the name suggests, this is a black bug that is mainly nocturnal and likes to hide under stones, bark and fallen leaves while it waits for its prey. While the males are capable of flight, the females are not, as they lack the developed wings that the males have. Males are often found around lights at night, where they chase down other bugs to catch and eat.
One distinctive feature of this type of assassin bug is the fossula spongiosa that can be seen on their legs. Often called ‘ankle weights’ or ‘leg warmers’, these are actually pads composed of dense hairs. Pores beneath these hairs emit a sticky oil that allows the black corsair to cling to slippery surfaces and also helps it catch its prey with its forelegs.
The black corsair’s prey is other insects, but like other types of assassin bugs, it can deliver a strong bite to humans if it feels threatened. This bite is often described as being excruciatingly painful and contributes to the fear many people feel of these formidable insects. Fortunately, black corsairs are usually only found outside and would rather stay away from humans where possible, except where their hunt for other insects brings them into contact with us.
2. Masked Hunter
Unlike the black corsair, masked hunters are a type of assassin bug that is more likely to be found indoors. The adults are slightly bigger than the black corsair, around 15-22 mm when fully grown. They otherwise resemble the black corsair, with the same dark color and wings.
Like most assassin bugs, the masked hunter feeds on other insects. This makes them somewhat beneficial to have around, since they keep down the numbers of other bugs. Along with silverfish, booklice, sowbugs and other insects, the masked hunter is known to prey on a pest species that has become a real problem for humans over the last few decades: the bedbug. Unfortunately, the masked hunter is capable of delivering a very painful bit to humans if it feels threatened, and so it is not the best bug to have in your home, despite its otherwise beneficial behavior.
One strange aspect of the masked hunter’s behavior is that it can produce sound by rubbing one part of its body against another. This is called stridulation, and it is what gives crickets their famous chirping sound. In the case of the masked hunter, it rubs its beak across ridges on its thorax, almost like an assassin sharpening his weapon.
There is an even more bizarre aspect of the masked hunter’s behavior, though, and it’s this that gives the creature its name. When these insects are young, before they are fully grown, they disguise themselves by covering their bodies with lint, dust and other small particles. This gives them the appearance of dust balls. Their bodies are covered with both short and long hairs, and they have glands that emit a sticky substance which helps dust cling to them. Every time the young masked hunter molts it skin, which they will do five times before becoming adults, they need to recover themselves in dust. It’s thought that this strange behavior helps the nymphs stay hidden, either from insects that might want to prey on them, or else from the insects that they themselves hunt.
3. Wheel Bug
The wheel bug is one of the more striking-looking among the different types of assassin bugs. For starters, these bugs are big – up to 1.5 inches or 38 mm in length! But beyond their size, these bugs get their name from the wheel-shaped armor they carry on their backs which sets them apart from the other types of assassin bugs. Wheel bugs have wings and are capable of flight, but they are not particularly good at it. They make a droning noise when they fly and look almost like big grasshoppers in the air.
Because they are not the swiftest moving bugs out there, the wheel bug relies on camouflage to both stay hidden from predators and to sneak up in its prey. The wheel bug hunts by chasing its prey and pinning it to the ground with its strong forelegs while it pierces the unlucky insect with its beak and injects a powerful enzyme. This enzyme immediately begins to break down the prey’s internal organs, which the wheel bug then sucks up through its beak and eats.
The wheel bug has a strange method of protecting itself when it feels threatened, besides its painful bite. This bug has two scent glands which it can release from its body which produce an unpleasant smell to help distract predators while it escapes. This smell is not as strong as that of stink bugs, but it is strong enough to be detected by humans.
4. Kissing Bugs
It’s strange that, while so many assassin bugs have terrifying names like the masked hunter and the black corsair, one of the scariest of all the different types of assassin bugs is the kissing bug. Though when you learn that it is also sometimes called the cone-nosed bug or the vampire bug, it starts to make more sense.
Unlike many of the other assassin bugs, the kissing bug has no interest in other insects. This assassin bug is a blood feeder, and it uses its sharp beak to feed on the blood of vertebrate animals, including humans. Also in contrast to other assassin bugs, the bite of the kissing bug is not painful. This allows it to feed on animals without them realizing it is present. This bite, or ‘kiss’, is what gives the bug its misleading name.
The kissing bug is found throughout the Americas, with some species living in Asia, Africa and Australia. They generally live close to the animals whose blood they feed on, and will spend the day hidden in cracks and crevices, emerging at night to feed. They find their prey via smell, tracking the carbon dioxide animals breathe out. Adults of many of the different species of kissing bugs are capable of flight.
This bug is of significant importance to human health since it is a major vector of Chagas disease. The parasite responsible for the disease is spread by the kissing bug’s disgusting habit of defecating once it has fed on the blood of an animal or a human. When people scratch the wound, they spread the bug’s feces into it, and the parasite enters the bloodstream.
5. Bee Killers
The bee killer is another type of assassin bug that has a name that aptly describes what it does. The bee killer is dark in color but has yellow or red markings on the sides of its abdomen. It is thought that these markings are designed to discourage birds from eating the bugs, like the bright warning markings of other poisonous animals.
The bee killer is a strong flier, but it doesn’t waste it ties trying to chase bees. Instead, it sits on top of flowers and waits for the bees to come to it. When a bee visits the flower for pollen, the bee killer strikes. Grabbing the bee with its forelegs, it will use its beak to deliver the killing blow and eat the bee.
Bee killers use plant resins on their forelegs to make them sticky. This stickiness helps them hold onto the bees and other insects they catch and prevent them getting away. But these collected resins also have another use. It is thought that female bee killers use the resin to coat their eggs in order to prevent them from being consumed by ants.
6. Ambush Bugs
The ambush bug is smaller than other types of assassin bugs, usually less than 1/2 an inch or 12 mm. There are many different subspecies of ambush bugs, and some of them are very strange looking. Their bodies often have all kinds of protrusions not seen on other assassin bugs, with one species in Asia being covered in spines. These small bugs come in a wide variety of colors, all the better to help them stay camouflaged and hidden while they wait for their prey to approach.
As the name suggests, ambush bugs are ambush hunters. They will choose a plant that they know will be visited by the insects they like to prey on and wait for something tasty to come by. When it does, the ambush bug will rush out of hiding to attack them. It uses its strong forelegs to seize its prey while its assassin bug beak does the killing.
The ambush bug’s forelegs are more developed than those of other assassin bugs, resembling those of a preying mantis. The upper section of the leg has teethlike structures that fit perfectly with similar structures on the lower part of the leg, which is much thicker than assassin bug’s legs generally are. This makes the ambush bugs forelegs operate like a pair of pincers to hold its prey in a tight grip. Despite its small size, the ambush bug uses this method to kill prey as large as bumblebees.
7. Thread-legged Bugs
Thread-legged bugs have long, thin, threadlike legs from which they take their name. This type of assassin bug can be quite large, 1.5 inches or 38 mm in some cases. They are most commonly found on trees or hiding in old buildings. Their long, spindly legs give these bugs a creepy spiderlike appearance which isn’t helped by the areas they choose to live in.
Thread-legged bugs don’t just have thin legs. In general, they also have long, thin bodies, almost like those of a stick insect. And although, as insects, they have six legs, the thread-legged bug only uses four of them for walking. Its front pair of legs are much stronger and thicker than the rest, and like many different types of assassin bugs, it uses these forelegs for grabbing and holding its prey so that it can bring its lethal beak to bear on the unfortunate animal in question.
Certain species of thread-legged bugs are known for having a very unusual method of hunting prey. There are certain species that spend much of their lives in the webs of spiders. This might sound like an extremely dangerous place for an insect to live, but the thread-legged bugs have figured out how to move among the threads of the spider’s web without getting caught. Spiders use movement in their webs to sense what is going on around them, so the thread-legged bug has developed a way of walking that is erratic and seems to the waiting spider like nothing more than a faint breeze shaking its web. The thread-legged bug uses this method to sneak up on spiders and attack them. It even attacks quicker on windy days, knowing that the spider will have more trouble detecting its presence.
And that’s not the only trick these crafty bugs have up their sleeve. Using their forelegs, they will sometimes pluck at the strands of the spider’s web, mimicking a trapped insect. When the spider comes racing to see what it has caught, the thread-legged bug ambushes it. Grabbing the spider with its powerful front legs, it does what assassin bugs do best: uses its beak to kill and consume the unlucky spider.
8. Feather-legged Bugs
One look at the feather-legged bug, and you’ll know at once how it got its name. This assassin bug’s hind legs are much bigger than the rest of its legs and are covered in bristling hairs that look very much as though the insect is wearing leg warmers. These bugs have a yellowish head and thorax, while the rest of its body is gray or brown. This dull coloring allows it to stay camouflaged on the trunks of trees and other plants while it waits for its prey.
The feather-legged bug is a specialist predator of ants, and the bristles on its hind legs are designed to help it catch them. This bug will stand close to an ant trail and wave one of its back legs around until it attracts the attention of an ant. The feather-legged bug has a special organ called a trichome which produces a substance which lures ants to it. Once an ant gets close enough, the feather-legged bug will raise its body, allowing the ant to taste the substance its body is producing. When the ant bites the leg of the feather-legged bug, the bug will turn and plunge its beak into the ant’s body, right at the weak spot at the back of the ant’s head. It will then carry the ant away to feed on it elsewhere.
As the name suggests, assassin bugs of all types are fearsome killers in the insect world. When you learn about these bugs, you can’t help but feel lucky that they aren’t much bigger, or else we humans might have even more to fear from them than we already do!
There are far more different types of assassin bugs than a single article can ever hope to describe. These are some of the strangest and most fascinating bugs out there, and this is a field of study that is ever expanding. The wide variety in the way assassin bugs live and feed makes them one of the most interesting families of bugs to study, and there is always more to learn about these fascinating creatures.