Assassin Bugs – Hired Guns Of The Garden

 

Assassin Bugs Are Executioners – Eradicating Pests That Destroy Veggie Plants

Yep.  That’s what they are.  Carrying an ominous name, assassin, these warrior bugs are worthy of our protection.  Enough of them can annihilate most of those enemy critters that eat the fruits of our labor before we have a chance to do it ourselves.

You know what those evil garden creepy crawlies can do!  They eat leaves, stalks, roots, and even the vegetables, fruits, and herbs we pick for our table!

Enter the assassin bugs to save the day for us!

 

What Do They Look Like?

Reddish orange and black assassin bug.

Assassin bugs can be so tiny that you wouldn’t even notice them – a couple tenths of an inch long.  Some are as big as your thumb – an inch and a half up to 2 inches long.

Their slender skull may be attached to a skinny neck.  Some may have a narrow body.  Some may have prehistoric looking, scaly sails or spikes sticking up out of their backs or legs.

Most of them have an arched proboscis – or curved beak – that they keep tucked up under their body when not in use.  They use this appendage like a straw – first injecting their prey with a potion that liquefies the victim’s guts – then sucking all of the bowel fluids out – to the last drop – gorging themselves to their heart’s content.

The colors of these ravagers of garden pests encompass some species that are red or orange – sometimes, with a little black thrown in for good measure.  And, others show solid, subtle colors = like black, brown, or gray.

At last count, there are over 7,000 species of these slayers worldwide – with over 160 varieties living in North America.  And, unlike their victims, they can survive cold winters if they can find a protected area – like an outdoor shed, hollow log, or a cave – to hole up in – until the spring thaw.

 

What Pests Do These Predators Eat?

Hornworm on a tomato plant

Look no further than those dastardly and thriving aphids – which are high on the menu list for assassin bugs.  But, don’t leave out the eggs, larvae and adult stages of leafhoppers, beetles, bees, and even large caterpillars.

Look out, you tomato hornworms, cucumber beetles, corn worms, and other little nasty crawlers.  Assassin bugs are out to get you, too!

And, these “warrior bugs” will not only hunt pests in the garden, they will patrol trees, shrubs, and flowers in your landscaped yard.  In other words, they go wherever their food source is hanging out.

 

Meet Some Common Everyday Assassin Bugs

 

Traditional Assassin Bug

Assassin bug liquefying their prey.

These comical looking combatants are mostly red or orange with a few splotches of black or gray.  They will patiently lie in wait for a delicious meal of garden pests – hours on end – and attack when the time is right.  They rarely miss their target.

They may be funny looking – but, they don’t play around.

The assassin bug’s bright coloring helps them deter any birds from swooping down to turn them into a meal.  Most predators will back away from any brightly colored insect – thinking that the bright colors are a warning that said insects are poisonous or taste nasty or are just unfit for consumption.  This is also what we learn as humans – if we decide to enter into the world of bug eating.

 

Robber Flies

Robber fly waiting for a meal.

Robber flies, or assassin flies, are particularly aggressive when hunting nasty crawlies to eat.  They patiently lie in wait for the right moment to successfully ambush their victim – usually when the target is flying along “without a care in the world.”

Some of these aggressive robber flies may look short and stout – resembling bumble bees – and less than half an inch long.  Some of them may look elegantly elongated – like a damsel fly – and reach up to 2 inches in length.

Their antennae are short and their beak like proboscis is short and sharp – easily piercing the outer body of any insect –  to deliver their “organ solvent” composed of saliva containing some pretty strong enzymes.  The saliva decomposes the insides of their quarry – quickly turning it into a mushy mass – and then the robbers suck it all out through the same tube.

These killing experts go after other flies, beetles, butterflies, some bees, grasshoppers, wasps, dragon flies, and even ants and a few types of spiders.

 

Wheel Bugs

Wheel bug with its wheel shaped appendage on its back.

Wheel bug eating an insect on a corn ear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is easy to see how the wheel bug got its name – with a wheel shaped, prehistoric looking sail that they sport on their back.  The largest varieties reach 1.5 inches in length but, can easily blend in with their environment to hide from predators and wait in ambush for their prey.  Since they are not the speediest predator, their camouflage comes in very handy.

Besides having the ability to painfully bite anybody who threatens them, they can offer up a very unpleasant odor from their scent glands – that will make any predators take a step back – giving the wheel bugs time to escape.  Their smell isn’t as strong as that of stink bugs but, any human with a good, working nose is easily made aware of their “special fragrance.”

Even though wheel bugs are most at home in North America – folks in Mexico and Central America have also seen their fair share of them, too.

 

Kissing Bugs

Kissing Bug

Just as the name suggests, these bugs like to kiss.  Well, not exactly.  They just prefer attacking close to the mouth or eyes of their victims.

You see – even though they are considered assassin bugs, they have no interest in eating insect innards.  These critters prefer mammal blood – human or animal – it doesn’t make any difference.  That is why they are also called vampire bugs – somewhat like mosquitoes.

They zero in on the carbon dioxide that mammals expel as they breathe.  And, these bugs attack by injecting their beak around the mouth or the eyes – where the skin is the thinnest.  If they bite you – you won’t feel a thing.  The enzymes they inject into you contain an anesthetic.  Since they will most likely bite while you’re asleep, you won’t know what hit you until the next morning.

Kissing bugs originally came from south of the border.  They thrive in Mexico – as well as Central and South America.

But, now they are found in the U.S.A. – mostly in states along the southern border – Texas, Arizona, California, and New Mexico.  However, as of this date, there have been sightings in as many as several dozen states in America.  Kissing bugs have even found their way onto other continents and are, as we speak, infesting the 3 A’s – Asia, Australia, and Africa.

Kissing bugs infect us with Chagas disease.

The bites from these vampire bugs won’t hurt you.  But, they have a habit of pooping on their victims as they gorge themselves with blood.  And, their poop contains a nasty parasite that, if it enters the victim’s bloodstream, may cause Chagas disease.

Early symptoms of Chagas disease are fairly mild and include: low energy, fever, flu symptoms, rashes, lack of an appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea.  Sores may also be present at whatever point that the parasite entered the body.  If the parasite enters around the eyes, the eyelids may be swollen.

It is not uncommon to not have any symptoms at first.  The Chaga parasite can lie dormant in a human or animal body for years – or decades – before rearing its ugly head and causing mayhem.

Those individuals with weak immune systems – like small children and elderly senior citizens – can experience more serious and deadly effects.  Blood clots – enlarged heart, colon, or esophagus – a drastic change in heart rhythm – as well as heart failure or cardiac arrest – are not uncommon.  In other words, these bugs can kill you!

So, don’t get cozy with kissing bugs – they are nothing but trouble in the long run!  There’s really nothing good I can say about them.

 

Leaving You With A Thought

Robber fly patiently waiting to ambush a meal.

We can learn a lot by watching insects go about their daily business.

Do you ever notice how successful they are at what they do?

Whether they eat plants or other insects, they have only achieved perfection to accomplish their tasks by practicing their trade – and, mastering the art of being completely still and patient.

Insects exhibit calmness and a unique intuition about everything around them.

I have to say that after watching insects in my garden, I am convinced that they have found true balance in life.

Maybe, that is something we humans should aspire to as well!

What do you have to say?  I respond to all comments and emails.

 

Jim, the Lifelong Gardener

jim@perfect-vegetable-garden.com

16 thoughts on “Assassin Bugs – Hired Guns Of The Garden

  1. BEazzy Shifts Reply

    Hello Jim. Hope you are having a nice time… Thank you for sharing this information about Assassin Bugs. Frankly speaking, I never knew these bugs can protect our crops and fruits from pests so we can reap the fruit of our labor fully. They are such an amazing creation and should be protected by us. I use to hurt them ignorantly before now. Thank you for this great information.

    • Jim Reply

      I always have a pleasurable time when I am adding unique posts to my website.  Assassin bugs are truly exceptional little critters.  Most folks don’t know what great help they can be to both large scale commercial farms and to home gardens.

      Hurting them is a typical reaction by anyone surprised by these killer bugs.  But, I’m hoping that as their usefulness is fully disclosed that they will get treated with a little more respect!

      Jim

  2. Ty Reply

    Honestly, bugs are fascinating creatures if you don’t have a phobia about them. I guess getting predatory bugs to get rid of the bugs that destroy gardens are much safer than using pesticides. 

    So nice and detailed, I’ll keep an eye out for bugs like these in my backyard. The only sort of garden I have has a few small orange trees, some tomatoes, and chives. So, not much.

    But I have lots of trees and bug life in my backyard so I’m curious if I’ll see any assassin bugs listed here.

    • Jim Reply

      Hi Ty,

      The more you know about these misunderstood bugs, the easier it is to lose that phobia about them.  And, they give us the ability to have organic gardens that are pesticide free.

      Since you have orange trees, tomatoes, and chives, I would bet you have some of these destroyer bugs hanging around.  Especially if you see any garden pests around.  They go where the food is.  Just look closely for those telltale straw-like beaks and I’m sure you’ll find a few of them lurking around!

      Jim

  3. Christina Reply

    Woah, Nelly! I’m not about to go messing with anything called an assassin bug! lol So, it looks like these guys are really useful to have around the garden. How you keep these guys in but other pests out? I assume you can’t use pesticide since that will wipe them all away? Do you just let them all come in and battle it out? How do you get more of the good guys so they can outfight the bad guys?

    Also, I have a story about a Wheel Bug. (I never knew their names, or what they are, so I’m happy to have learned!) One day I was out picking wine berries and enjoying a snack. I put one in my mouth and it had this horrible bitter taste. i took it and I also took out one of those wheel bugs. YUCK! I thought it was a stink bug at first, but now I know they’re not quite as “stinky”. However, I do not recommend eating one! lol He got my attention though and he was able to safely scamper away instead of becoming my food. 

    • Jim Reply

      Hi Christina,

      Assassin bugs can be your path to a chemical free garden – that’s for sure.

      Most pesticides are broad spectrum and will kill almost any insects invading your plants – including assassin bugs.  So, to attract assassin bugs, you will have to quit using pesticides for a while – and suffer an increase of bad bugs – until the assassins get wind of your garden.  Then, when they arrive, they will increase in numbers rapidly.

      If you must use a pesticide or insecticide, use a narrow spectrum product that targets specific plant munchers that you are trying to get rid of.  But, the best bet is to use none at all.

      I enjoyed your wheel bug encounter.  I’ve chomped down on more than a few bugs myself throughout the course of my outdoor experiences – and very few of them were anywhere near being a gourmet snack – unless they came from specific bugs I wanted to eat!

      🙂

      Jim

      • Christina Piccoli Reply

        Thank you for all the wonderful advice! I don’t have a garden, but I same plants in pots outside in the summer and we do get some of those bad bugs on them.

        I don’t know if I can get down with eating insects! I mean, I’m sure they’re sustainable and nutritious, but I can’t get past the yuck factor. I’ll keep those as friends, not food. lol

        • Jim Post authorReply

          I’m sure the assassin bugs can eliminate those bad bugs in your potted plants, too, Christina!

          I’m with you on the “yuck” factor. But, when push comes to shove, we will get our protein whenever and wherever we can find it!

          🙂

          Jim

  4. Olonisakin Kehinde Reply

    Hello Jim,

    I love the protective advocacy for the bugs in your post for the assassin bugs.  Honestly, I never knew that these bugs and flies are that useful. It is important to push for their protection in all ways since they have more beneficial effects on our labour in the gardens.  

    If there are ways to reproduce these assassins, it will be of great importance to gardeners who know their usefulness. 

    • Jim Reply

      Hi Olonisakin,

      The best way to protect assassin bugs and show them that they are welcome into the garden is by not using broad spectrum pesticides.  If the veggie eating bugs get to be too many, using a narrow spectrum pesticide should go the trick without harming these efficient little executioners.

      Jim

  5. Dale Reply

    Wow!!  What an article.  Honestly most of these bugs look very scary and I didn’t think bugs scared me.  I am not really a green thumb.  More like yellow turning to green.

    So, in saying that the more I learn to save my garden the better and I’m telling you this one article alone taught me a lot.

    Was wondering about insecticides.  Are we better to not use them because they will also kill the bugs that are working for us?

    I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

    • Jim Reply

      Hi Dale,

      Broad spectrum insecticides will kill just about every type of bug – good or bad – that invades your garden space.  To welcome assassin bugs, you need to either quit using these chemical poisons – or choose a narrow spectrum version that targets only the specific bad bug you are trying to eradicate.

      Jim

  6. Sylvia Reply

    Thank you for this informative article on Assassin Bugs, I still feel itchy. 🙂  I do know about the importance of a balanced Eco system and that (some) bugs can be beneficial too.

    However, I never have heard the term Assassin bugs.  But due to your description and, thanks to the videos, I do understand a bit more what it is all about

    I am still new to growing my own vegetables, so far we had this year tomatoes, salad lettuce, some radish, and beans.

    Luckily it went well and our crop wasn’t as bad as years before.

    I, too, love watching the insects in our backyard.  We even saw a tiger beetle in the spring.

    One year our Honeysuckle bush, which attracts Hummingbirds, was infested by aphids and a friend came by with some caught Ladybugs from her property.

    We set them out on the Honeysuckle bush and they really did an awesome job.  That year, they saved at least 2/3 of the bush’s leaves.

    Who knows how that would have gone without them.

    Would you consider the Ladybug also as an Assassin bug?

    Thanks for the information.  It is appreciated.

    • Jim Reply

      Hi Sylvia,

      I’m glad my assassin bug article helped your understanding of these beneficial critters.

      I don’t think ladybugs would qualify as an assassin bug – since they don’t have the characteristic sucking straw that is the tool of the assassin bug’s trade.

      Even though ladybugs are predators in their own right, they are still prey for any and all assassin bugs.

      Jim

  7. Nkhosingiphile Reply

    The Wheel bugs are great and they really do their calculations before they attack.  The assassin bugs are also good and i love the way they attack. Some people may see these insects as a threat but it is all that we need to reduce pests as they feed on them. The use of chemicals is really not good because these insects may suffer and die.  Yet we need them.

    • Jim Reply

      You’re quite right.  If we want a chemical free garden, then these deadly little assassin bugs are the ticket to success.  And, while it is true that a broad spectrum pesticide will kill them, along with the bad bugs, you can use a narrow spectrum chemical that targets the specific bad bug you are trying to eliminate.

      Jim

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