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Assassin Bugs Are a Blessing in Disguise

By Staff Writer
Share to PinterestAssassin Bugs Are a Blessing in Disguise
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There are nearly 3000 species of assassin bugs, and approximately 5% of them live in North America. These terrestrial ambush predators lie in wait for their kill—other insects—and some even drink mammal blood like mini vampires.

Assassin bugs are common, but they're usually found in low numbers in backyards. The important thing is, there's no need to get rid of them. Quite the opposite, in fact: they serve an essential purpose in organic gardens.

01

Some assassin bug stats

Share to Pinterestassassin bug on a flower bud

Assassin bugs can live for years and survive cold seasons by overwintering. The fully-grown insects are about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch long. They're not the most graceful fliers but are quick in a pinch.

Assassin bugs have piercing beaks or rostrums at the end of long narrow heads. The young nymphs look similar to the adults but have no wings.

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02

What do assassin bugs do for your garden?

Share to Pinterestcaterpillars eating a plant leaf

Assassin bugs are beneficial insects to have around, despite their ruthless reputations. They'll eliminate many pests for you, including aphids, caterpillars, cockroaches, mealy bugs, flies, leafhoppers, and mosquitoes.

This is super helpful in an organic garden—you can leave nature to its own devices, and cut out chemical insecticides for a healthy green space.

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03

Assassin bug habitat

Share to Pinterestassassin bug on a log

These insects are not fussy about their hunting grounds—flowers, shrubs, trees, vegetables, and weeds will all do. But the masked hunter variety doesn't go to work in backyards. You'll see it inside your home at night, taking care of indoor pests so you don't have to.

If you don't want assassin bugs in your home, seal cracks and holes, including in attics and crawl spaces, and keep dog beds clean.

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04

Where can you find assassin bugs in the US?

Share to Pinterestassassin bug with prey

These little critters are found throughout the United States, but are widespread in the South, where the climate is warmer and they can thrive for longer. The black and red milkweed assassin bug, Zelus longpipes, is one of the most observed varieties in states like Texas. 

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05

How to attract assassin bugs

Share to Pinterestgarden at night lit with solar-power lights

Assassin bugs and the insects they feed on are generally attracted to light, so consider installing some solar-powered lamps in your garden. Set up a watering hole filling a shallow pan with gravel and pouring in just enough water to cover the surface of the stones. Any more H20 and the assassin bugs will drown.

Adding mulch to your beds also offers these terminators a place to hide.

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06

Purchasing assassin bugs

Share to Pinterestbrown leafhopper assassin bug on a leaf in the garden

You can buy these valuable insects online just as easily as you shop for groceries or order fast food. Be wary of introducing strange creatures to your area's ecosystem, though. If assassin bugs aren't common in your area, use your online time to find out if there's another regional insect that does the same job. Think ladybugs, hoverflies, and lacewings.

Remember also that these insects are as beneficial as wasps, but many see wasps as nuisances, your neighbors included. Not everyone on your block might be as excited by these new guests as you are.

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07

Can assassin bugs be problematic?

Share to Pinterestkissing bug on a flower

Assassin bugs can prey on beneficial bugs too. They're not interested in humans and their pets but will bite in self-defense. Even though their protective attack won't liquify your insides, it can be uncomfortable.

You'll also find kissing bugs, in the same family as assassin bugs, in the Lone Star State—they painlessly suck blood from human faces and may cause an allergic reaction. There's a low but not insignificant risk of contracting Chagas' disease from these critters.

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08

Assassin bug life cycle

Share to Pinterestassassin bug on a leaf

When summer winds down and the temperatures drop, the female assassin bug leaves a cluster of brown capsule-like eggs in the protective crevices she can find on tree branches or plant foliage. The eggs almost look like a honeycomb. They'll hatch in spring, and the nymphs go through five molts before gaining reproductive abilities.

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09

Lean green killing machines

Share to PinterestGreen assassin bug on a leaf

The front legs of assassin bugs have a sticky substance to trap prey, and their rostrums are strong enough to penetrate the tough exoskeletons of other insects. When they've burrowed through, they inject a toxin with digestive enzymes that kill their victim before liquifying its insides for convenient sipping.

All that's left behind is a dry husk. They don't call them creepy crawlies for nothing.

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10

Assassin bugs and the food chain

Share to Pinterestbird with a bug in its beak

Assassins are efficient hunters but can be preyed upon in turn. These bugs are black, brown, or a color that sneakily allows them to camouflage themselves, but sometimes it's not enough to evade capture.

Cannibal assassins feed on their brethren, and rodents, birds, spiders, and other insects do too. The young nymphs are particularly susceptible to being eaten.

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