Assassin Bugs Exposed: What You Should Know to Stay Safe

folder_openHemiptera, Insecta
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In this article, we discuss all about the infamous assassin bug, and whether it is as bad as it is made out to be by its name!

When you hear the name “assassin bug,” you might assume them to be a scary insect that can deliver a painful bite or a venomous sting. 

Although the assassin bug bites are indeed painful, these bugs aren’t as bad as you might think. 

There are around 160 different species of Assassin bugs in North America, and you should be happy to find a couple of these natural predators in your garden. 

Read on to find out more about these interesting bugs and their habits.

Assassin Bugs
Leafhopper Assassin Bug nymph

What Are Assassin Bugs?

Reduviidae family, under the order Hemiptera, is commonly known as Assassin bugs. 

They are true bugs, and the family comprises a large number of assassin bug species that may vary in appearance but have similar habits. 

Assassin bugs earn their name from their hunting technique – they stab their prey with their sharp beaks. 

While they are primarily insectivores, a group of assassin bugs is also known to suck the blood of animals and even humans. 

It’s these assassin bugs that you need to be wary of – the rest are mostly harmless to humans.

What Do Assassin Bugs Look Like?

Generally speaking, assassin bugs have flat and elongated bodies, narrow heads, and joint antennae. Most of them are winged insects, with the wings forming an X pattern on their backs. 

The claw-like beak has three grooves that allow them to fold it underneath their bodies. 

However, various species of assassin bugs can look very different from each other due to varying colors, patterns, and structures.

Ground Assassin Bug

Types of Assassin Bugs

1. North American Wheel Bug

Wheel bugs are a group of assassin bugs named after the spinny wheel-like ridge on their back. 

However, the only wheel bug you can find in the US is the North American wheel bug, which also happens to be one of the largest bugs in the country. 

Growing up to 1.6 inches, these bugs have a robust structure and are usually a shade of grayish or brownish-black. 

Be careful when handling a North American wheel bug – it has a nasty bite that can hurt more than a bee sting!

2. Milkweed Assassin Bug

This is another common assassin bug species in the US, especially in the Southern states. 

Unlike what one might assume, the milkweed assassin bug isn’t called so because it sticks around milkweed plants. 

Rather, they closely resemble milkweed bugs and have a similar color – hence the name. You can find them in agricultural fields, around a variety of crops where they prey on herbivorous pests. 

Milkweed assassin bugs are particularly known to hunt fall armyworm grey worms in the Southern part of the United States, especially in the vast fields of corn. 

They trap their prey by laying a sticky substance on the leaves.

Milkweed Assassin Bug

3. Orange Assassin Bug

The orange assassin bug is hard to miss, thanks to its beautiful and distinct appearance. As its name indicates, this assassin bug is characterized by a mostly orange body. 

Contrasting the bright orange background, there’s a pattern of black lines across its body and its legs have orange stripes. 

In some parts of North America, these bugs may appear to be amber rather than orange. They prey on a diverse range of insects and usually conceal themselves on the bark of trees.

4. Leafhopper assassin bug

The leafhopper assassin bug is an excellent hunter, with its appearance allowing it to camouflage amidst the vegetation. 

Thanks to the green and brown body, these bugs can easily blend in with the leaves. It can also produce a sticky substance to trap its prey, just like the milkweed assassin bug. 

These assassin bugs inject their prey with a pre-digestion solution to liquefy the insides and consume the liquified body. 

Leafhopper assassin bugs are especially helpful at protecting soybean, cotton, and fruit plants from the pests that usually attack them.

5. Pale Green Assassin Bug

This is another green and brown assassin bug species that uses its color to camouflage itself on plant leaves. 

However, the pale green assassin bug isn’t as crafty as the leafhopper assassin bug when it comes to hunting. It usually relies on its camouflaging ability to lay in wait and ambush its prey. 

However, if their usual hunting technique doesn’t work, they go out in search of prey and hunt more actively. Laying up to 50 eggs in a single batch, these assassin bugs can multiply rather fast.

Pale Green Assassin Bug

6. Spined assassin bug

The spined assassin bug is a formidable predator, with a long fang to stab and pierce its prey to death. It earns its name from the pointy spines on its body, which it uses to fend off its enemies.  

Spined assassin bugs eat various agricultural pests in large numbers, including aphids. They’re common in gardens, especially around flower beds. 

You may sometimes find these assassin bugs hiding on the underside of leaves. While they don’t usually pose a threat to humans and would run away if you get close, they can deliver a painful wound with their sharp fangs. 

Even though it’s good to have spined assassin bugs in your garden, be careful not to grab or touch them.

7. Scarlet-Bordered Assassin Bug

Found in grasslands and gardens, this is a red assassin bug with a black body with deep red stripes. Their head is mostly red, too, with a thin shape. 

The X pattern on their wings is highlighted with red as well, giving the bug a special look. The Scarlet-Bordered Assassin Bug usually prefers to live among the tall grass, high shrubs, and tree leaves. 

Kissing Bug vs Assassin Bug: Are They the Same?

You may have come across assassin bugs being mentioned as kissing bugs and wondered if they’re the same species. 

Well, while kissing bugs are a type of assassin bugs too, not all species of assassin bugs are kissing bugs. Only a certain group of bloodsucking assassin bugs that sometimes attack humans are known as kissing bugs. 

They’ve earned this name due to their tendency to bite humans near the lips. The kissing bug bite is very painful and can potentially infect humans with the Chagas disease.

Assassin Bug Bite

Where Do They Live?

While assassin bugs are now very common in North America, this wasn’t always the case. Global warming has forced these bugs to spread far and wide from their native lands. 

You can now find these bugs in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Southern two-thirds of the US. With so many species of assassin bugs out there, it’s not very surprising that a wide variety of habitats can house these bugs. 

Common assassin bug habitats include gardens, grasslands, woodlands, crops, areas with sandy or rocky soil, meadows, rainforests, and animal shelters.

What Do They Eat?

Assassin bugs thrive on other insects, especially various herbivorous pests that one would find around vegetation. They often kill prey larger than themselves, thanks to their hunting abilities. 

Assassin bugs usually kill their prey by stabbing them with their sharp mouthparts. These straw-like mouthparts are more suited for sucking rather than biting. 

Apart from sucking the juices of prey insects, assassin bugs also liquefy the prey’s body for consumption by injecting certain pre-digestion enzymes.

What Is the Lifecycle of Assassin Bugs?

The life cycle of an assassin bug isn’t very different from that of other insects. Like the rest, assassin bugs go through the same stages too – eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults.

  1. Eggs: Assassin bugs reproduce rapidly, laying up to 300 eggs. They lay the eggs in batches of 30 to 60, known as rafts or bundles. It takes these eggs about 2 weeks to hatch.
  2. Larvae: The eggs hatch into wingless larvae called nymphs. These nymphs grow through five developmental stages in a process known as molting. From the time assassin bug nymphs hatch from eggs, they need a couple of months to reach adulthood. 
  3. Pupae: As you likely know, the pupal stage is when insect larvae undergo metamorphosis and transform into adults. Unlike beetles and butterflies, bugs go through an incomplete metamorphosis during this stage. 
  4. Adults: The adults don’t look very different from the full-grown larvae, apart from the former being winged insects. Adult assassin bugs live for six to ten months but usually spend most of this time overwintering through the cold months.
Millipede Assassin Bugs prey on Millipede

Where Do They Lay Eggs?

Assassin bugs lay their eggs on leaves and stems. Their eggs are barrel-shaped and are usually laid upright in large clusters. 

Be careful when treating your plants with insecticidal sprays, as you might unintentionally destroy the eggs of these beneficial bugs

Do They Bite or Sting?

While assassin bugs do not sting, they can deliver a powerful bite that hurts more than a bee sting. Most of them bite humans only in self-defense and don’t pose a threat unless handled. 

However, the ones grouped as kissing bugs deliberately bite humans to suck blood. The level of pain varies with the species, and those bitten can sometimes experience various symptoms for an extended period.

Are They Poisonous or Venomous?

Assassin bugs produce two venoms – one to defend themselves against predators and the other to paralyze and liquefy their prey for consumption. Both these venoms contain more than 100 different toxins. 

Although the disulfide-rich peptide neurotoxin-rich liquifying venom is lethal against other insects, they aren’t dangerous to humans.

Are They Harmful to Humans as Pests?

To farmers and gardeners, assassin bugs aren’t pests – they’re rather helpful. As mentioned earlier, they keep pest populations under control by hunting and feeding on a wide range of pests. 

This makes them good to have in gardens and agricultural fields.

However, the kissing bugs pose a major problem to humans by spreading the Chagas disease. This infectious disease is carried by a parasite present in the fecal matter of kissing bugs. 

Symptoms include headaches, fatigue, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and even heart failure. Apart from the fact that Chagas disease can cause sudden death, it can’t be cured in the advanced stages either.

Bark Assassin Bug

Can They Come Inside Homes?

Assassin bugs primarily prefer to live around plants, where they can find plenty of prey. However, they’re also in search of dark and secluded places during the day and often end up indoors. 

At night, these bugs are attracted to bright lights. Kissing bugs also find a food source in homes as they can feed on human blood.

What Are assassin bugs Attracted To?

Shrubs, vines, flowerbeds, and mulches attract assassin bugs. Planting daisies, goldenrods, dills, fennels, marigolds, and tansies in your garden can help you attract them. 

Assassin bugs are also attracted to agricultural fields with plenty of insects to feed on. At night, they’re drawn to bright lights.

How To Get Rid of assassin Bugs?

As assassin bugs are beneficial insects, there’s no need to remove them unless they’re one of the species that tend to bite humans. 

However, if you’re dealing with kissing bugs or there are too many assassin bugs than what you’re comfortable with, these solutions should help you get rid of them:

  • Swapping your regular lights for yellow-bug-safe lights should significantly reduce assassin bug incursions in your home.
  • Burn rodent nests around your home and clean the perimeter. This will help keep blood-sucking assassin bugs away.
  • Bifen granules and PT-Phantom are especially good at treating assassin bug infestations in the garden.
  • If you have to use chemical pesticides, synthetic pyrethroid sprays and bifenthrin-based broad-spectrum insecticides are good choices.

Interesting facts about assassin bugs

  • Not all species of assassin bugs have wings – the Pale Green Assassin Bug is wingless.
  • These predators use various tactics when hunting. Apart from their natural abilities, like laying out sticky traps, they also use dead insects as bait to lure live prey.
  • The front legs of an assassin bug are designed for hunting too. They have thousands of hairs with sticky pads, which they use to grab their prey.
Assassin Bug

Wrapping up

So, if you have been wondering, “Are assassin bugs beneficial or harmful?” you now have the answer. They’re very beneficial in the garden but can also pose a problem depending on the species.

There is at least one species of the Assassin bug that really lives up to the name – the Kissing bug can give you a lethal disease that has no known cure. 

Regardless of whether you live in North America, South America, or Central America, there’s a good chance that you might encounter these bugs at some point. 

Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Assassin Bugs

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26 Comments. Leave new

  • I have recently found these bugs living on my shrubs in the front of our house. I first noticed them because my plants looked to have a black substance growing on them. A closer inspection showed them feeding and laying eggs. I was wondering if this is harmful in any way.

    Reply
  • These images depict a nymph of the milkweed assassin, Zelus longipes.

    Reply
  • These are wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) nymphs.

    Reply
  • The photo is blurry so it is difficult to say for sure but this is probably Zelus renardii.

    Reply
  • This is Zelus renardii.

    Reply
  • Agreed with Eric, this is almost certainly Pselliopus barberi, but a more detailed shot would be needed to be 100%.

    Reply
  • This is indeed a species of Sinea. It is probably S. diadema or S. confusa.

    Reply
  • Leafhopper assassin indeed!

    Reply
  • This is Zelus renardii, well known in California.

    Reply
  • Almost certainly Sinea diadema but cannot rule out S. confusa.

    Reply
  • Mostly likely Emesaya brevipennis. Excellent photo of a mating pair.

    Reply
  • This one is Zelus renardii, the leafhopper assassin bug.

    Reply
  • This is Pselliopus cinctus, indeed!

    Reply
  • This is either Ricolla femoralis or R. quadrispinosa.

    Reply
  • This is definitely a species of Rhiginia, although it is NOT R. cruciata. It is probably R. crucifera, R. crudelis, or R. cinctiventris.

    Reply
  • This is most likely Sinea diadema but S. confusa cannot be ruled out with certainty.

    Reply
  • Awesome!! I just took some amazing photos of one of these, that I found on a bush outside! I really thought it was some type of assassin bug, but wasn’t sure. These are by far, one of my favorites.

    Reply
  • We have wheel bugs that hatched today, January 10, 2015. Happy birthday wheel bugs! We live in Pittsburgh and want to know how to keep them alive until the spring. Please help.

    Reply
    • We just returned to California flying through Pittsburgh. It is very cold now and we are guessing you kept your Wheel Bug egg case indoors, hence the early hatching. These are predators and they may eat one another until it is warm enough to release them. You can also try small crickets from the pet store, though we suspect they may be too large for hatchling Wheel Bugs.

      Reply
  • Unfortunately, Bugman, you were right. The nymphs ate each other and I am down to just one Wheel Bug. She ate the last two this week. I am sooo disappointed. We are in the dead of winter and I’ve been trying to find something for them to eat. I tried mealbugs but they were too big. Interestingly enough, they turned into beetles. I’ve been racking my brain trying to find out how to keep them alive and I read today to try wingless fruit flies. I went to Petco and got some. I think that this will work since they are so tiny. I just wish that I found out sooner.

    Reply
    • Wingless Fruit Flies sounds like a wonderful choice. We lament that we were not aware of them when you first wrote.

      Reply
  • We designated our lone Wheel Bug a girl and she’s eating!!!!! So, happy. They are very interesting and I’m excited to see her continue to grow until we can release her in the spring.

    Reply
  • ANAISE M. LIVAI
    July 16, 2017 5:46 am

    Need to know where to report seeing this bug roo.

    Reply
  • Michael Kahula
    August 3, 2017 10:54 am

    Aloha,
    Spotted one in State NAR in Kanaeo, Maui ( SSE) . Just found out what it was from our Dr. Fern Duvall here at State Forestry and Wildlife.

    Reply
  • Michael Kahula
    August 3, 2017 10:54 am

    Aloha,
    Spotted one in State NAR in Kanaeo, Maui ( SSE) . Just found out what it was from our Dr. Fern Duvall here at State Forestry and Wildlife.

    Reply
  • Hello, this species is not at all, the one that is commented. The taxonomy of this genus is yet to be studied but surely it has not been commented on

    Reply

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