Assassin Bugs

Assassin bugs are a group of carnivorous bugs in the order Hemiptera. They have strong forelegs that they use to capture and hold their prey and use their piercing mouthparts to inject a paralyzing poison. Much in the way a tarantula devours its prey, this poison liquifies the internal organs of the insect which the assassin bug then sucks out with its sucking mouthparts. There are many types of assassin bugs, some which specialize in particular prey and some which are more generalized feeders. All types except for conenose assassin bugs are considered beneficial.

Leafhopper Assassin Bug

Assassin bugs belong to the Reduviidae family and are distinguished from other members of the order Hemiptera by their beaks, which are short with three segments (rather than the four segments that are typical in the Hemiptera order).

Common assassin bugs include leafhopper assassin bugs, wheel bugs, and milkweed assassin bugs. Assassin bugs undergo a complete metamorphosis with both nymph and adult stage being beneficial. The female insect lays eggs on leaves and stems. Once hatched, nymphs undergo between four and seven growth stages, gaining size and growing wings during that time. Assassin bugs typically only have one life cycle per year with adult insects overwintering to start the cycle again in the spring.

Leafhopper assassin bugs are between and of a inch long at maturity and vary in color from a reddish brown to a yellowish green. They are distinguished by small heads and large oval bodies with widespread legs. The front legs of the leafhopper assassin bug are covered in a sticky matter that helps them keep hold of their prey. Leafhopper assassins commonly feed on fleahoppers, aphids, boll weevils, and caterpillar eggs. As a generalist predator, leafhopper assassins will sometimes feed on other beneficial bugs including ladybugs and big-eyed bugs.

Wheel bugs are one of the largest of the assassin bugs, measuring between and 1 and inches long. The wheel bug gets its name from the wheel shaped spines which protrude from the thorax. Wheel bugs tend to camouflage themselves on gray to brown bark. They avoid humans. If threatened they exude a strong odor from scent sacs located near the anus. Some people consider wheel bugs pests because if threatened and mishandled they will bite, leaving a stinging sensation and a spot that may take weeks to heal. Nevertheless, if left alone wheel bugs feed on beetle larvae, adult beetles, aphids, and are particularly beneficial in reducing populations of hairy caterpillars which defoliate trees.

Milkweed assassin bugs are one of the most common assassin bugs and can be distinguished by their bright red and black coloring. Milkweed assassin bugs are about -inch long with a narrow thorax, a bright red body with black marking and shiny black wings. They have long back antennae and if threatened they will stand on their back four legs with the front legs held up in front of them. Milkweed assassin bugs feed on aphids, mosquitoes, flies, stink bugs and army worms.

Unlike some beneficial insects which feed on very specific prey, assassin bugs will eat most other insects including other beneficials. However, because of their large size and appetite and the fact that their diet is overwhelmingly filled with pest bugs, they are considered beneficial.

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Galveston County Master Gardeners: Beneficials in the Garden Landscape: Milkweed Assassin Bug

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