Bee assassin bugs, scientifically known as members of the genus Apiomerus, are a group of conspicuous, brightly colored assassin bugs that belong to the Reduviidae family.
Predominantly found in the United States and extending into tropical America, these bugs have garnered attention due to their unique feeding habits and interactions with bees.
In this article, we will look into the characteristics, behavior, and common questions surrounding these intriguing insects.
What is a Bee Assassin Bug?
Bee assassin bugs are part of a large family of bugs known as Reduviidae.
These bugs are typically dark-colored, often with combinations of gray, green, and black.
They are excellent predators and are general feeders, preying on a diverse variety of insects, including flies, mosquitoes, beetles, and large caterpillars.
The name “bee assassin” stems from their frequent behavior of sitting and waiting on flowers, where they ambush and prey on bees.
However, it’s important to note that while they are reputed to feed on bees, they are not exclusively bee predators.
Observations have shown that while they patrol flowers, they are more commonly seen on leaves and stems, areas not frequently visited by honey bees.
In terms of appearance, bee assassin bugs are usually dark in color, often adorned with yellow or red markings on the sides of their abdomen.
These bright colors serve as a warning to potential predators, signaling their capability to deliver a painful bite.
Adults typically measure about half an inch in length.
Distribution and Habitat
Bee assassin bugs are predominantly found in the United States, especially east of 100°W.
Their distribution extends into tropical America, making them a common sight in various habitats across the continent.
These habitats range from dense forests and mountain ranges to residential gardens, as previously mentioned.
In the U.S., they exhibit a degree of polychromatism, with variations in size based on their location.
The smallest specimens are typically found in the southeast, while larger specimens are more common in the north and west.
Physical Characteristics and Behavior
Physically, bee assassin bugs are medium-sized, flattened insects.
They possess a mostly black body adorned with orange or reddish margins. One of their distinguishing features is the presence of prominent upright hairs on their body.
Their behavior is characterized by their predatory nature. As ambush hunters, they often wait in hiding, ready to pounce on their prey.
Their eyes, which are usually large and set at the middle or rear of their head, play a crucial role in spotting potential prey.
Once they’ve identified a target, they use their piercing, sucking mouthparts, known as a beak, to immobilize and consume their prey.
This beak rests within a groove between their front legs when not in use.
How big are bee assassin bugs?
Males typically range from 12.2-18.3 mm in size, while females are slightly larger, measuring between 14.8-20.1 mm.
Species of Bee Assassin Bugs
Bee assassin bugs encompass a variety of species within the Apiomerus genus. Here are some of the notable species:
This species is characterized by its mostly black body with orange or reddish margins.
It has prominent upright hairs on its body, and its size varies with males typically ranging from 12.2-18.3 mm and females measuring between 14.8-20.1 mm.
This species is another member of the Apiomerus genus. It is commonly found in Central America and North America.
Like other bee assassin bugs, it likely preys on bees and other insects, using its specialized beak to inject venom and consume its prey.
Commonly referred to as the yellow-bellied bee assassin, this insect feeds primarily on bees. It is found in arid and semiarid regions of southwestern North America.
An interesting behavior exhibited by this species is its ability to extract plant resins and apply them as defensive chemicals to its eggs.
This behavior protects the eggs from predation, especially by ants, but possibly also other species.
Specifically, females of A. flaviventris are known to collect resin from the brittlebush, Encelia farinosa Gray ex Torr. (Asteraceae), to use for this purpose.
Feeding Mechanism and Venom
We mentioned this earlier, but lets talk about this in more detail now.
The bee assassin bug’s feeding mechanism is both swift and lethal. They are equipped with a long, curved beak, which they use to stab their prey.
Upon capturing a bee or other insect, they inject toxins and enzymes through this beak. These substances serve a dual purpose:
- Immobilization: The toxins quickly immobilize the prey, ensuring it cannot escape or retaliate.
- Digestion: The enzymes play a crucial role in the bug’s feeding process. They liquefy the internal organs of the prey, turning them into a mushy substance.
Thus, the bee assassin bug can easily consume its prey, sucking up the liquefied insides through its beak.
The bee assassin bug’s venom is potent, and its effects are almost immediate, especially on smaller insects like bees.
The rapid action of the venom ensures that the bug can feed without much resistance from its prey.
Do Bee Assassin Bugs Bite Humans?
Yes, bee assassin bugs can bite humans, especially if they feel threatened or are handled carelessly.
While they are primarily focused on preying on insects, they will use their rostrum (specialized mouthpart) in self-defense against larger threats, including humans.
A bite from a bee assassin bug can be rather painful. This pain arises because the bugs inject the same salivary secretion they use to dissolve the tissues of their prey into the human skin.
This results in the death of a small area of cells at the bite site.
Symptoms of a bite include an intense burning sensation, often followed by a small, itchy lump that may persist for several days.
However, it’s important to note that no true toxin is involved, so it is rare for the reaction to last long or to extend beyond the site of the bite.
First Aid Measures if Bitten:
- Immediate Care: Wash the bite area with soap and water to prevent any potential infection.
- Pain Management: Take oral analgesics, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, to reduce pain.
- Reduce Swelling or Itching: Apply Caladryl® or topical corticosteroids to the affected area.
Comparison with Other Bugs
Bee Assassin vs. Kissing Bug
While both belong to the Reduviidae family, they differ in their feeding habits and potential risks to humans.
Kissing bugs are known vectors of Chagas disease, while bee assassin bugs are not associated with any diseases.
Yellow-bellied Bee Assassin
A variant of the bee assassin bug, it is known for its distinct yellow belly and is found in arid and semiarid regions of southwestern North America.
Yellow Assassin Bug
This bug is similar in appearance to the bee assassin but is not specifically known for preying on bees.
Tiger Assassin Bug
Recognized by its striped appearance, this bug is a fierce predator but is not specifically known for targeting bees.
Are Bee Assassin Bugs Poisonous?
Bee assassin bugs are not “poisonous” in the traditional sense, but they are venomous.
The distinction is crucial: poisonous organisms release toxins when they are ingested or touched, while venomous organisms actively inject toxins, usually via a bite or sting.
Bee assassin bugs possess a venom that they use primarily for hunting. When they bite their prey, they inject this venom, which immobilizes the prey and begins the process of digestion.
For humans, a bite from a bee assassin bug can be painful due to this venom, but it is not life-threatening.
The venom’s primary effect on humans is localized pain and swelling. There’s no evidence to suggest that their venom has any significant adverse effects on larger animals.
However, as with any insect bite or sting, individuals with allergies or sensitivities should exercise caution and seek medical attention if they experience severe reactions.
Managing Bee Assassin Bugs
If bee assassin bugs become a nuisance, especially in residential areas, there are several measures that can be taken:
- Physical Removal: Using gloves, gently pick up and relocate the bugs to another area, preferably away from human activity.
- Natural Repellents: Planting herbs or plants that deter insects can reduce the number of bee assassin bugs in a particular area.
- Limiting Light Sources: These bugs, like many insects, are attracted to light. Reducing outdoor lighting or using yellow “bug lights” can decrease their presence.
However, it’s essential to understand the role of bee assassin bugs in the ecosystem.
They are natural predators and help control the population of other insects.
Before taking any drastic measures to get rid of them, one should consider their beneficial role in maintaining a balanced environment.
Bee assassin bugs, with their unique characteristics and behavior, play a vital role in our ecosystem.
While their name might sound menacing, understanding their nature and habits can lead to a more harmonious coexistence.
Their predatory behavior helps in controlling other insect populations, making them beneficial in many environments.
As with all creatures, it’s essential to approach them with respect and knowledge, ensuring safe interactions and appreciating their role in the broader web of life.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Bee Assassin and Whitecrossed Seed Bug
Bee Assassin, White-crossed Seed Bug
Hi Bugman et al,
I’m just another one of your thousands (or is it millions?) of fans that have caught the Bug bug from you. (A seemingly harmless virus that causes the “sufferer” to want to take photos of bugs). Harmless? Perhaps, perhaps not. Bugs can sometimes bug you.
After perusing your web site numerous times I just wanted to send you a couple of photos of bugs (True Bugs!) that aren’t Box Elder bugs. You already seem to have a lot of photos of them. I believe one is a Bee Assassin Bug, supposedly he’s great to have in your garden. Good thing, I had a lot of them this summer. The photo was taken June 3, 2006.
The other photo is a Whitecrossed Seed Bug (which I can’t understand why they didn’t name it a British Soldier Bug – but then they didn’t ask me) taken on August 25, 2006. Hope you like the photos, isn’t it nice to see something other than a Box Elder Bug? Both photos were taken in Newnan, Coweta County, Georgia.
Karen R. Brooks
|Bee Assassin||Whitecrossed Seed Bug|
We are posting your letter a day late and have just finished posting another letter with a Whitecrossed Seed Bug. Thank you so much for sending us these underrepresented species.
Letter 2 – Two Assassin Bugs: Spiny Assassin Bug and Bee Assassin
Subject: Two un-named bugs
Location: Western Kentucky
September 16, 2012 2:12 pm
I have written in the past and you have helped me identify many of my bug photos. I also recently purchased an insect guide. I still have been unable to find either of these two. The first I assume is a nymph or juvinile bug. I went through 32 pages on your listings of nymphs and still had no luck finding anything with these club like front appendages.
It is on a zennia flower to put the size in perspective. The other bug was eating another bug (I assumed a lightening bug) but I have also been unable to find it. Can you help me put names to my insects?
Signature: Janet Fox
Both of your unnamed insects are Assassin Bugs in the family Reduviidae. The individual without wings on the orange zinnia is an immature Spiny Assassin Bug in the genus Sinea. It matches this individual on BugGuide. The individual with prey on the white blossom is a Bee Assassin, Apiomeris crassipes. It is also represented on BugGuide.
Assassin Bugs are predators and they often wait on blossoms to prey upon insects that visit blooms. Most Assassin Bugs are considered beneficial, though many will deliver a painful bite if carelessly handled. We cannot tell the identity of the prey in the Bee Assassin photo.
Thanks Daniel for the prompt response. I appreciate the time you take to help people figure out their small friends in the world. I love the site and it has been a great help.