The Assassins of Insect kingdom
In this section, Saevus brings to you short stories of life from the undergrowth. These often escape our attention but they can be of immense importance in the natural world.
Predators lurk in every nook and corner in the undergrowth. Most are ambush predators, hiding camouflaged in places frequented by other insects and invertebrates. Most common examples of this are spiders, snakes and some lizards. Insects very rarely deploy this strategy. But one group of bugs is perfectly evolved for this. Aptly, they are named assassin bugs.
Assassin bugs are true bugs (belong to the order Hemiptera). But most behavioural characteristics about them are un-bug like. Most bugs are passive feeders, adapted to feed by sucking liquids from plant tissue or decomposing animal matter. But assassin bugs hunt other insects and invertebrates, sometimes even larger than themselves, by stabbing them with their long rostrum (or proboscis) and injecting them with a lethal dose of their saliva. The saliva goes about dissolving the unfortunate victim’s tissues, starting the digestion process even before the assassin bug eats its prey. The ungainly looking assassin bug, with its narrow neck, elongated head and long legs, makes up for what it lacks in strength and agility with its potent venom.
Assassin bugs live up to their name when you read the long list of victims that these bugs have been seen feeding on. Praying mantises, spiders and ants have all fallen prey to this superior hunter. In fact, so well known is this killer’s prodigy that assassin bugs have been for long bred and used as pest control in farms and even in houses, where they feed on cockroaches and bedbugs. Recent studies on the saliva of assassin bugs showed that it displays some insecticidal and antibacterial properties. Further studies are in progress to see how this can be used in the field of agriculture and disease control. So, the next time you see this ungraceful insect, walking awkwardly on a branch or camouflaged under some debris, don’t be prompt to dismiss it; instead, take a moment to appreciate the intricate connections by which all life is entwined.
This article originally appeared in the February 2015 edition of Saevus Magazine.