Assassin Bugs, while not the best known of invertebrate pets, are actually quite popular with insect specialists and in public collections. I began working with 2 African species in the early 80’s, and soon built up a collection of native forms as well. Recent studies at Australia’s Macquarie University have revealed that one Assassin Bug captures spiders by tweaking their webs in imitation of a trapped insect. I’ll cover the care of some commercially available Assassin Bugs in Part 2.
Hunting the Hunters :
Assassin Bugs are predatory insects of the Order Hemiptera (insects with piercing mouthparts). Most lie in wait for invertebrates to stray within reach, others feed upon blood, and a few employ elaborate ruses in order to trick their prey within striking range.
The Reduviidae are a large cosmopolitan family of the order Hemiptera (true bugs). They are slightly unusual overall, but very common among the Hemiptera because almost all are terrestrial ambush predators (most other predatory Hemiptera are aquatic). The main examples of nonpredatory Reduviidae are some blood-suckingectoparasites in the subfamily Triatominae. Though spectacular exceptions are known, most members of the family are fairly easily recognizable; they have a relatively narrow neck, sturdy build, and formidable curved proboscis (sometimes called a rostrum). Large specimens should be handled with caution, if at all, because they sometimes defend themselves with a very painful stab from the proboscis.
An adult assassin bug
Domain : Eukaryota
Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum : Arthropoda
Class : Insecta
Order : Hemiptera
Suborder : Heteroptera
Infraorder : Cimicomorpha
Superfamily : Reduvioidea
Family : Reduviidae
The family :
The Reduviidae are members of the suborder Heteroptera of the order Hemiptera. The family members are almost all predatory, except for a minority that are blood-sucking species of importance as disease vectors. About 7000 species have been described, making it one of the largest families in the Hemiptera.
The name Reduviidae is derived from the type genus, Reduvius. That name, in turn, comes from the Latin reduvia, meaning "hangnail" or "remnant". Possibly this name was inspired by the lateral flanges on the abdomen of many species.
Among others, the family include the assassin bugs genera:
Some genera and subfamilies have more particular common names that are reasonably widely recognized, such as:
Ambush bugs (subfamily Phymatinae)
Thread-legged bugs (subfamily Emesinae, including the genus Emesaya)
Kissing or cone-headed bugs Triatominae, unusual in that most species are blood-suckers and several are important disease vectors
Wheel bugs (Arilus cristatus)
Adult insects range from about 4.0 to 40 mm, depending on the species. They most commonly have an elongated head with a distinct narrowed 'neck', long legs, and prominent, segmented, tubular mouthparts, most commonly called the proboscis, but some authors use the term "rostrum". Most species are bright in color with hues of brown, black, red, or orange.
The most distinctive feature of the family is that the tip of the rostrum fits into a groove in the prosternum, where it may be used forstridulation by rasping it against ridges in the groove. The structure of ridges is a stridulitrum, or stridulatory organ to produce sound, a tactic often used to discourage predators. If harassment continues, many species can deliver a painful stab with the proboscis, injecting venom or digestive juices. The effects can be intensely painful and the injection from some species may be medically significant.
A Zelus nymph from theSoutheastern United States
Predatory Reduviidae use the long rostrum to inject a lethal saliva that liquefies the insides of the prey, which are then sucked out. The saliva contains enzymes that digest the tissues they swallow. This process is generally referred to as extraoral digestion. The saliva is commonly effective at killing prey substantially larger than the bug itself.
The legs of some Reduviidae have areas covered in tiny hairs that aid in holding onto their prey while they feed. Others, members of the subfamily Phymatinae in particular, have forelegs that resemble those of the praying mantis, and they catch and hold their prey in a similar way to mantises.
As nymphs, some species cover and camouflage themselves effectively with debris or the remains of dead prey insects. The nymphal instars of the species Acanthaspis pedestris present one good example of this behaviour where they occur in Tamil Nadu in India. Another well-known species isReduvius personatus, known as the masked hunter because of its habit of camouflaging itself with dust. Some species tend to feed on pests such as cockroaches or bedbugsand are accordingly popular in regions where people regard their hunting as beneficial. Reduvius personatus is an example, and some people breed them as pets and for pest control. Some assassin bug subfamilies are adapted to hunting certain types of prey. For example, the Ectrichodiinae eat millipedes, and feather-legged bugs eat ants. A spectacular example of
Orange assassin bug (Gminatus australis) feeding on a beetle
A reduviid camouflaged with debris, Australia
Assassins should be provided a varied diet – roaches, caterpillars, moths, grasshoppers, waxworms and many other insects are readily accepted; colonies fed solely upon crickets tend to die out after a few months. Prey is grasped with the front legs and paralyzed by venom injected through the long, pointed proboscis or rostrum. The body fluids and perhaps digested tissue of their victims are then consumed in liquid form; the empty exoskeletons are discarded.
US Native Assassins and Ambush Bugs :
The USA is home to an incredible variety of Assassin Bugs and the closely related Ambush Bugs (please see article below). The largest of these, the Wheel Bug, (Arilus cristatus), measures 1.5 inches in length and may be found throughout much of the eastern portion of the country (please see photo in Part 1 Above ).
Bee Assassins hide among flowers and will take on large bees and wasps or butterflies with equal relish.
Ambush bugs are very stout and often brightly-colored, with thick, grasping front legs that lend them the appearance of small, squat Praying Mantids (please see photo). They are rarely kept but very interesting and worthy of your time and efforts – we have so much to learn about them (please see article below).
the latter is Ptilocnemus lemur, an Australian species in which the adult attacks and eats ants, but the nymph waits until the ant bites the feathery tufts on its hind legs, upon which it whips round and pierces the ant's head with its proboscis, and proceeds to feed.
Some research on the nature of the venom from certain Reduviidae is under way. The saliva of Rhynocoris marginatus showed some insecticidal activity in vitro, in tests on lepidopteran pests. The effects included reduction of food consumption, assimilation, and use. Its antiaggregation factors also affected the aggregation and mobility of haemocytes.
The saliva of the species Rhynocoris marginatus (Fab.) and Catamirus brevipennis (Servile) have been studied because of their activity against human pathogenic Gram-negative bacteria (including strains of Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus vulgaris, and Salmonella typhimurium) and the Gram-positive (Streptococcus pyogenes).
Some species are blood suckers rather than predators, and they are accordingly far less welcome to humans. Triatoma species and other members of the subfamily Triatominae, such as Rhodnius species, Panstrongylus megistus, and Paratriatoma hirsuta, are known as kissing bugs, because they tend to bite sleeping humans in the soft tissue around the lips and eyes. A more serious problem than their bites is the fact that several of these haematophagous Central and South American species transmit the potentially fatal trypanosomal Chagas disease, sometimes called American trypanosomiasis.
Rhynocoris - predatory flower assassin bug from South Africa, may bite when carelessly handled, painful after effects often persist for months
Current taxonomy is based on morphological characteristics. The first cladistic analysis based on molecular data (mitochondrial and nuclear ribosomal DNA) was published in 2009 and called into question the monophyly of some current groups, such as the Emesinae.
Taunting a Big Assassin Bug
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Platymeris is a genus of assassin bug (reduviidae). Platymeris species are often used in laboratories and as pets. The venom of this genus has been studied in a laboratory setting.
-Platymeris biguttatus (Linnaeus, 1767)
-Platymeris charon Jeannel, 1917
-Platymeris erebus Distant, 1902
-Platymeris flavipes Bergroth, 1920
-Platymeris guttatipennis Stål, 1859
-Platymeris horrida Stål, 1865
-Platymeris insignis Germar & Berendt, 1856
-Platymeris kavirondo Jeannel, 1917
-Platymeris laevicollis Distant, 1919
-Platymeris nigripes Villiers, 1944
-Platymeris pyrrhula Germar, 1837
-Platymeris rhadamanthus Gerstaecker, 1873
-Platymeris rufipes Jeannel, 1917
-Platymeris swirei Distant, 1919
Captive care :
These insects are relatively easy to keep. They need a medium sized terrarium with many hides like bark and a good substrate is vermiculite or cork bark. They feed on many commercially available insects such assuperworms, crickets, waxworms, locusts, etc. Development from nymph to adult takes about 9 months; and adults live for about two years.
Breeding is easy if you have both sexes. The female has a small slit in the end of her abdomen. The eggs are laid on the substrate and can be hard to spot. The tiny nymphs hatch about three weeks after being laid. First instar nymphs can be fed pinhead crickets and fruit flies and should be misted every other day in order to achieve successful molts.
The optimum temperature is 25 C for these animals and low humidity for adults. A weekly spray with water is appreciated as the Assassin Bugs will suck the water droplets with their rostrum.
In order to liquify the contents of their prey, they use powerful toxins and enzymes. These insects can spit these enzymes in your eye causing severe irritation to temporary blindness if not washed with water. The bite is very painful and allergic people should take special care with these insects. When agitated, a droplet of these toxins is visible on its rostrum.
For refrences click to read the Wikipedia Article
Assassin Bugs as a pet :
– Captive Care and a Spider-Hunting Assassin – Part 1
courtesy to : blogs.thatpetplace.com
Assassin Bug eggs and nymphs are very tiny, and usually go un-noticed – be sure to use fine grade insect screening over their terrariums to prevent escapes.
The Australian species studied at Macquarie University lures spiders close by plucking at their webs. As anyone who has tried to lure a spider out of hiding knows (yes, I have tried…often and in many places!), they can be quite discriminating in deciding what sort of disturbance to investigate. Analysis of the web vibrations produced by Assassin Bugs revealed that they exactly matched those made by a trapped insect. This hunting strategy, known as Aggressive Mimicry, is used by certain spiders but had not been observed in insects.
Bait-Users and Blood-Suckers :
Other species of Assassin Bugs hold dead termites in their jaws when hunting. This either hides the Assassin or encourages other termites to investigate, there by assuring the hunter an easy meal.
While doing some work at an insectarium in Ohio, I had the chance to observe Assassin Bugs that fed upon mammal blood. However, providing a live mouse to a hoard of ravenous insects was not deemed a suitable public exhibit, so the little beasts were held for behind-the-scenes study (blood-feeding Assassins spread Chagas Disease and other serious illnesses).
Assassins in Captivity
West Africa’s White-Spotted Assassin Bug (Platymeris biguttatus) and the Red-Spotted Assassin (P. rhadamanthus) of East Africa are the species most commonly offered for sale in the USA. I’ll cover their care in Part 2 of this article.
A number of North America’s many native species make fascinating terrarium subjects as well, although none are as easy to breed or as are the African imports. The East Coast’s 1.5 inch Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus) is, however, very interesting and well-worth some attention from insect fanciers (please see photo)…more on these and other species in Part 2.
Further Reading :
- Videos : www.youtube.com/
Assassin Bugs – Captive Care and a Spider-Hunting Assassin – Part 2
Commercially Available Species
West Africa’s White-Spotted Assassin Bug (Platymeris biguttatus) and the Red-Spotted Assassin (P. rhadamanthus) of East Africa are sometimes offered for sale in the USA and are well-established in private and public insect collections.
Warning: All Assassin Bugs can administer a painful bite with their sharp proboscis, or rostrum. As infection and an allergic reaction to their venom are distinct possibilities, they should only be kept by well-experienced adults. These and other species can also spray their venom, so protective eyewear is a must. All Assassin Bugs, including the US natives, should be handled only with forceps.
Environment and Breeding
Red and White-Spotted Assassins can be kept in large colonies. They seem to prefer other insects to one-another as food…cannibalism is not a concern as long as they are well-fed and sprayed frequently with water. Both are rainforest inhabitants, and do well in humid terrariums (humidity 60-80%) at 76-86 F. Cork bark and branches should be provided for them to cling to.
Both species breed via both parthenogenesis and sexual reproduction. The tiny eggs are deposited on moist substrates and hatch within 30-60 days. The young can be reared with adults, but are easier to care for if removed (please see “Warning”, above).
Also known as Kissing Bugs, certain South American Assassins transmit the protozoan that causes Chagas Disease, a serious illness that affects millions of people. The same protozoan has been found in blood-feeding Assassin Bugs native to the USA and elsewhere, although the disease itself is not present. More research is needed – anything you might learn about harmless species could possibly be applicable to disease-causing types – please write in with your observations.
Further Reading :
- Great info and photos of native Assassin and Ambush Bugs from the University of Kentucky.
- Excellent Videos : Assassin Bug vs. Bat : youtube . com
Orange spot assassin bug (Platymeris species) :
courtesy to : www.reptileforums.co.uk/forums/
First discovered in Mombo, a town in the foothills of the Usambara mountain range of Africa. It currently lacks a full scientific classification. The most aggressive of the three. It is also the largest (growing to 6cm) and most recently discovered. Its venom is apparently stronger than the other two.
Red spot assassin bug (Platymeris rhadamanthus)
Least aggressive and grows to 4.5cm. Its main diet in the wild is the rhinoceros beetle. Its bite is like that of a honey bee.
White spot assassin bug (Platymaeris bigutattus)
Grows to about 4cm. Semi-aggressive. More liable to hide.
The venom from the assassin bug's mouth can be sprayed with scary accuracy and seems to aim for the eyes. Do not handle and always keep them at least an arms length away when not in their enclosure. Their bite is worse than the venom sprayed and the wound can last for weeks. They are also quite speedy.
You can keep them in any well-ventilated enclosure of reasonable size - for example a cricket tub with slightly larger holes is fine or a faunarium. If you use the latter be aware their venom could be sprayed through the gaps. Not sure if they would. Have a damp bottom substrate of coco-husk or soil with a dry substrate on top, such as lots of bark for hiding. Also you can put single egg cartons for hiding. Water can be provided by placing a cotton wool soaked in water. They will usually get their liquid from their food though.
Temperature needs to be kept warm at around 80-85 Fahrenheit. They like to burrow sometimes, so the heat mat must go on the side of the tank - they're somewhat the same as scorpions and horned frogs in their behaviour, burrowing mainly to get away from the heat. Some owners prefer to use heat bulbs.
They eat any invertebrate, with a varied diet best to maintain good health. Food should be the same size as the assassin bug itself, but it will take down injured crickets twice its size. They attack by sneaking up on the prey and then quickly jumping on them. The assassin bug stabs the prey with its proboscis and injects venom, quickly killing it. After dragging the dead victim away, it will feed by sucking the juices out. It will sometimes feed in the open.
Nocturnal but will come out during the day. They occasionally burrow to get away from the heat. A newly shed assassin bug will be bright orange and this colouration lasts for a couple of hours. The assassin bug is a very inquisitive insect and it will appreciate different things to climb on and hide under.
The female assassin bug is parthenogenic so males are not needed, but obviously genetic variety is best. Eggs are laid in the substrate, providing it is moist.
Breeding Assassin Bugs :
Breeding the Assassin Bugs is not a difficult process but raising the young requires a bit if care and special attention, specialised equipment is not required and is in the budget of most people.
Sexing the Assassin Bugs is not so easy, if you do wish to breed these then it is best to purchase a group of the bugs and allow them to mate naturally, it is believed that the females have a wider thorax but in some specimens this is very difficult to spot.
When they do mate the eggs will be deposited all over the substrate in the enclosure, at this stage you have the choice of removing the eggs or leaving them where they are, for a higher success rate it is probably better to separate the eggs into their own enclosure for hatching. To make life easier you can add a shallow dish filled with a damp substrate such as vermiculite as the Assassin Bugs prefer to lay the eggs in damper (damp but not wet) substrate due to the eggs and young requiring a higher humidity level.
The eggs are very dark and small when first laid but over a period of approximately three weeks they will change in appearance to a more reddish colour. Just prior to hatching the eggs will be totally red, this is a sure sign that hatching is imminent.
The hatchlings are referred to as “nymphs”, this is because they are hatched as miniature replicas of the adult specimens apart from the colouration. Their bodies will have a red colouration and the legs will be banded with black and orange bands. Once hatched the nymphs will need to be separated before they get the chance to prey on each other so a smaller container will be required to house each nymph individually. Finding containers for the nymphs does not have to be at great expense, plastic or polystyrene cups are ideal, simply place some damp kitchen towel in the bottom of these to provide the humidity and seal the top with the plastic lids provided with the cups and make a couple of small air holes for ventilation.
As mentioned in the feeding section the nymphs will require smaller food sources so fruit flies are ideal, once a day place the flies inside the rearing cup and let the nymph find the food of its own accord.
Some Videos :
Assassin Bug Feeding
White Spotted Assassin Bug ( Feeding )
Assassin Bug! Strange Killing machine
Recommeneded Websites :
Further Reading :
by Orin McMonigle
by Andrew Hipp
by Orin McMonigle