Naturally Speaking: The assassin bugs | Lifestyles | washtimesherald.com – Washington Times Herald

The dictionary has several meanings for the word assassin. It says a worthless person, a hashish user, or a murder for hire. All of these are correct, but it also leaves out one other fact. Of all these things there is also a family of bugs that go by the name assassin bugs.

These insects are found all over the world and can be a problem to humans. There are 110 species of these bugs native to North America and several of these are found in Indiana. While most assassin bugs are rather small and inconspicuous, a few are quite a bit larger.

They received their name for the way they hide in ambush, some even go by the name ambush bug, and catch other insects off guard and kill and consume them. A quick jab with their beak and the injection of a toxin that soon makes the victim helpless allows the bug to feed upon insects much larger than themselves.

The assassin bugs suck the fluid from its victims and will keep at it until the poor creature is nothing but a hollow shell. As can be expected, the bite from one of these insects can be quite painful. I have never been bitten by an assassin bug but my son Terry has had the misfortune to come upon one hiding in ambush on two occasions. Both times he never saw the bug until it bit him as they are experts at the use of camouflage to conceal themselves. They like to hide in vegetation with the same color as their body. I was with my son both times he came in contact with this species of bug and saw him draw back in pain. I let him have a little while to let the pain subside then asked him to describe the pain. He let me know it was worse than any bee or wasp sting he had ever been subjected to.

I have talked to other people who have also been bitten and most told me it was excruciating. All of these were from a rather small species known as the masked hunter. The masked hunter is not native to the U.S. but as with so many invasive species came across the ocean from either Europe or Africa and are now found all across the U.S. Including Indiana.

There are, however, several other forms of a rather small one you may come in contact with, but its one you really have to watch out for. It is the inch and a half long wheel bug. This is a native species that once was mostly found in the southern U.S. Now, however, due to the increasing climate change it is a common event to see them in late summer or early fall here in Hoosierland. Each year I see more in vegetation that contains a variety of other species of insects. They feed upon some species that we class as harmful, such as hornworms and Japanese beetles.

One year when we had a large infestation of Japanese beetles I saw at least a dozen wheel bugs on plants where the beetles had started to fee. This was really a sight to see, but I took great pains to not get too close to the bugs for those who have been bitten by a wheel bug say it is indeed very painful. The nymphs of the wheel bug have a bright re abdomen which they usually hold erect.

Adults are a shade of brown or gray and have a wheel-like projection on their back that is quite unusual and gives them the name wheel bug. One other bug we may soon have to watch out for is another southern species that is coming north as the weather warms. This is the variety known as kissing bug for its habit of biting humans in the lips as the bug feeds at night upon insects such as bed bugs and it is a victor of Chagas disease, which we dont want to ever get. More on this in a future column.

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Naturally Speaking: The assassin bugs | Lifestyles | washtimesherald.com - Washington Times Herald

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