The Assassin bug – you might not be too thrilled with the idea of armies of assassins lurking about your garden, but you should be.
Assassin bugs are beneficial insects that make very handy garden helpers.
Assassin bug hunting for aphids, scale insects, spider mites and other on Lavender blooms
There are thousands of varieties of assassin bugs, and all are voracious pest predators. They naturally kill aphid garden pests in large numbers and devour leaf caterpillars and even some very small mammals.
In this article, we will discuss these beneficial insects and provide share advice on attracting and keeping them in your garden. Read on to learn more.
- Wheel Bugs Are Not The Only Assassin Bugs!
- What Is the Assassin Bug Life Cycle?
- Where Do Garden Variety Assassin Bugs Live?
- What About Kissing Bugs?
- How Can I Recognize The Beneficial Insects?
- What If You Get Bitten?
- Is It Hard To Avoid Assassin Bugs?
- What Do Assassin Bugs Eat?
- How Can You Attract And Conserve Assassin Bugs?
- Be Patient And Vigilant!
- Coexistence Is Key To Partnership With Beneficial Insects
- When it comes to venom, assassin bugs are double trouble
- Helpful though they may be, avoid assassin bug’s bite
- Assassin Bugs: A Natural Predator In Your Garden
- Assassin Bug Identification
- Learn About Assassin Bugs
- Assassin Bug Bites
- Everything You Need To Know About Assassin Bug Bites
- Get To Know The Kissing Bug: A Little Insect With A Big Reputation
- What is a Kissing Bug?
- Insects that May Be Mistaken for Kissing Bugs
- Kissing Bug Habitat and Population
- The One Kind of Bug You Want in Your Garden
Wheel Bugs Are Not The Only Assassin Bugs!
The wheel bug may be the most common and recognizable assassin bug, but it is by no means the only one.
Around the world, there are almost 3000 different species of assassin bugs. In North America, there are nearly 200 species.
Some you may be familiar with include:
- Milkweed Assassin Bug
- Elongate Assassin Bug
- Spined Assassin Bug
- Predatory Stink Bugs
- Minute Pirate Bugs
- Big-Eyed Bugs
- Damsel Bugs
- Wheel Bug
In all species, both the nymphs and adult bugs eat common garden pests.
They do this by poking their sharp beaks into the pest’s body and injecting a toxin that immobilizes the prey and dissolves its innards.
Once the assassin bug has its victim under control, it sucks out the contents and leaves the pest a mere husk of its former self.
What Is the Assassin Bug Life Cycle?
Adult female assassin bugs lay eggs twice a year. In the springtime, they lay them on the backs of leaves and on plant stems.
In autumn, they lay them in protected crevices and cracks. The eggs are cylindrical and laid in clusters. Eggs laid in the spring hatch in the summer and eggs laid in the autumn hatch in the spring.
When the eggs hatch, wingless nymphs emerge. These immature bugs look like their parents, but they are smaller and flightless.
They begin eating pests right away and grow rapidly. Before attaining adulthood, they molt (shed their skins) between four and seven times, finally emerging as fully grown, winged adults.
Where Do Garden Variety Assassin Bugs Live?
These bugs are very broad ranging because they eat all sorts of pests. For this reason, you can find them in all sorts of vegetation.
Watch for them in flowers, weeds, bushes, and trees. They are typically found on their own because, in addition to being hunters they are also hunted.
They have quite a few natural enemies, so they do not congregate as this would make them easy prey.
Luckily for assassin bugs, they are not defenseless against their enemies. They can both bite and shoot their venom a distance of about twelve inches.
For this reason, you should keep an eye out for them out in your yard or garden.
While these bugs are not aggressive to large mammals such as yourself, they will bite if you accidentally pick up or brush against one.
What About Kissing Bugs?
You may have heard a lot about “deadly kissing bugs.” Many people believe that these bugs are the same as the beneficial garden assassin bugs. This is simply not true.
Although kissing bugs are members of the same family as garden variety assassin bugs, they do not eat the usual summer garden pests.
Instead, they drink blood.
For this reason, you are far more likely to find them in:
- Woodland areas
- Dog houses
- Chicken coops
- Bat Caves
and other places where warm-blooded creatures live than in your yard or garden.
Even though they have been known to carry a deadly parasite, kissing bugs have by no means overrun the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), infection with Chagas disease (which is caused by infestation with the parasite they can carry) is quite rare.
The “assassin bugs” in this video are kissing bugs. Notice the characteristic broad, concave back and striped border.
This is how you differentiate this blood-sucking type of assassin bug from the many fairly benign, insect-eating garden varieties.
How Can I Recognize The Beneficial Insects?
Beneficial predatory bugs are “true bugs” and as such their backs are an easily recognized shield shape.
These predators vary in size depending upon species.
For example, the Minute Pirate Bug is usually only a sixteenth of an inch long. Wheel bugs, on the other hand, can be quite large at approximately one-and-a-half inches long.
Most assassin bugs are dark in color in shades of black, gray and green.
Some elongate assassin bugs are brightly colored in shades of red and green with darker markings.
They are all members of the bug family known as Reduviidae.
Although these types of bugs may range greatly in coloration and size, you can always recognize them by their shield-shaped backs, big, round, beady eyes, narrow heads and long, strong, three-segment, needle-like beaks.
The beak (at rest) is positioned in a groove that lies between the front legs may be tucked up under the body when not in use.
These bugs usually have a thin “neck” between the head and the body. Another identifying feature, if you happen to be close enough to count, is the four-segmented antennae.
What If You Get Bitten?
If you move about mindfully in your garden, you are unlikely to get bitten.
Look before you reach and watch where you’re going and assassin bugs will see you coming and get out of your way.
If you do get bitten, it will hurt, but it’s not really dangerous.
The bug will inject salivary secretions into you, just as it would a pest. This will cause pain, swelling, itching and a small amount of cell death.
It won’t cause serious harm unless you are allergic to the venom, in which case you should seek medical assistance.
Otherwise, treat the bite as you would a mosquito bite or other, similar bite.
Keep it clean, apply cold packs and wait for it to resolve.
This should just take two or three days.
If the bite continues to bother you after five days have passed, you may want to see your doctor.
Is It Hard To Avoid Assassin Bugs?
A modicum of caution and awareness should keep you safe.
Although these bugs can fly, they don’t do it well, so you are unlikely to encounter them zipping about.
You will typically find them lurking and bumbling around in the foliage.
They move slowly and are not aggressive, so you don’t need to worry too much about accidental encounters.
Even an occasional bite is a small price to pay for the amount of benefit these efficient pest predators can bring to your garden.
What Do Assassin Bugs Eat?
No matter what sort of pests you have invading your yard and garden, a member of the assassin family can surely assist.
These predators are generalists and like to feed on lots of different kinds of pests.
They operate by either lying in wait and ambushing their prey or actively hunting and stalking.
Here are just a few of the pests that fall prey to these friendly predators:
- Many small flying insects
- Asparagus Beetle Larvae
- Asparagus Beetle eggs
- Mexican Bean Beetles
- Beetles in general
- Corn Earworms
- Scale Insects
- Spider Mites
- Leafhoppers – Green, white and others
There are some assassin bugs in the Apiomerus genus that hunt bees and eat them.
How Can You Attract And Conserve Assassin Bugs?
The best way to welcome assassin bugs to your garden is to stop using pesticides.
Although this may result in a temporary increase in pests, once the assassin bugs get wind of it, they’ll come to your rescue.
You don’t want to greet them with a poisonous garden!
If you absolutely must use a chemical pesticide in your garden, search for selective or “soft” pesticides.
These are intended to target pests and spare beneficial insects. Always read pesticide labels very carefully before applying.
Encourage predator insects to take up residence in your garden by providing them with plenty of good hiding places.
Planting a cover crop of flowering plants can provide some of these bugs with alternative food sources, as well as good shelter for overwintering.
Be Patient And Vigilant!
It may take a while for assassin bugs to establish themselves. Naturally, they need to have a ready food source in order to do so.
Standard assassin bugs, minute pirate bugs, and big-eyed bugs are examples of members of this family that overwinter in shrubby or weedy areas as adults and then emerge in the springtime to mate and lay eggs.
They look for areas rich in caterpillars, aphids and other good food sources as good egg-laying sites.
In the springtime, you will see the eggs laid on leaves, stems, bark and sometimes on the soil.
They are identifiable as tight, upright clusters of cylindrical, brown eggs.
Be sure to watch out for them and don’t destroy them by accident.
Keep a lookout for the nymphs, which look a lot like their parents but maybe a bit smaller and more colorful.
Don’t kill them by accident because they can eat lots of springtime garden pests.
Naturally, you should also watch out for adults.
Check with your local agricultural extension to find out what species of these predators can be found in your area.
Coexistence Is Key To Partnership With Beneficial Insects
To encourage these beneficial bugs to come to your yard, don’t mow too close or prune too stringently.
Plant a diverse collection of flowers, veggies, trees and shrubbery that will also attract food-source insects.
Don’t use pesticides, and when you see these bugs outdoors, give them a wide berth.
Remember, predatory bugs usually appear in great numbers late in the season. This is nature’s way of making sure there will still be lots of them come spring.
Leave them alone and let them find good places to overwinter.
Allowing them to live and let live will ensure you have plenty of help with your unwanted bugs when the growing season returns.
If you find them indoors during spring and summer, cover with a cup, slide piece of paper underneath and escort them outside.
In Texas, milkweed assassin bugs tend to come in during the cold months.
If you can cohabitate with them, they’ll keep your indoor pest insect population down.
Otherwise, relocate them to an outbuilding where they’ll have some shelter from the cold.
When it comes to venom, assassin bugs are double trouble
Assassin bugs are little things but, boy, are they nasty. At least, they are if you happen to be an insect they consider to be prey – or, indeed, a rat or bird seeking to convert one into lunch.
The name of the bugs – which covers about 300 species clustered into the family Reduviidae – already implies that they are not to be trifled with. New research led by molecular bioscientist Andrew Walker from the University of Queensland, however, has revealed that they are far, far more unpleasant than previously thought.
In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, Walker and his colleagues use imaging data to show that the assassin bug has not one but three distinct venom glands. More, it produces two entirely separate types of venom – one to conquer prey, and the other to repel predators.
“We discovered that assassin bugs actually make two different venoms, each containing a unique cocktail of over 100 different toxins,” Walker says.
The way an assassin bug feeds is the stuff of B-grade science fiction. Using its trademark strong proboscis – otherwise known as a rostrum – the bug impales its prey and then injects venom-laced saliva. This serves two gruesome purposes: first, it paralyses the victim, and then it liquefies its internal organs, allowing the assassin bug to suck it all out.
A 1978 study of a US assassin species observed that the strategy was so successful the bug was able to ingest as much as 99% of the live weight of its victim.
And if that simply makes the members of the Reduviidae sound like greedy brutes, consider this. In 2010 a paper in the New Zealand Journal of Zoology provided the world with the first description of a newly discovered assassin bug species, Stenolemus giraffa.
This particular bug makes its living eating spiders. It does so, reported lead author FG Soley from Australia’s Macquarie University, in ways that “emphasise stealth”. These include “slowly stalking the resident spider until within striking range”, a process that involves “breaking silk threads in its path while walking across the rock substrate beneath the web”.
But it’s not only soon-to-be-liquidised insects and spiders that have cause to be wary around assassins. Recommended
It’s long been noted that handling a bug in a way that makes it uneasy is a foolish thing to do. An assassin bug bite produces intense, localised pain and, eventually, a small patch of dead tissue.
Until Walker’s team went to work, it was assumed that the discomfort arose because the bug injected the same venom it uses to Magimix its food. It turns out the assumption was incorrect.
The researchers discovered that the bugs produce two quite different venoms and apply either depending on the situation.
The hunting venom is produced in one spot, an area dubbed the anterior main gland. The defensive alternative is produced behind it, in the posterior main gland. Both glands, plus a third auxiliary one, converge on a structure called the hilus, described as a set of muscle-controlled mixing chambers.
When Walker’s team applied the defensive venom to prey insects it had no effect at all – but, boy, did it hurt bigger animals.
The researchers say that as far as is known, the capacity to produce two venoms with different functions is an evolutionary adaptation not found in any other animal.
It may also, Walker says, lead to some useful innovations.
“The hunting venom seems like a good place to look for leads for eco-friendly insecticides, as it contains many different toxins that have evolved for the specific purpose of killing insects,” he explains.
“On the other hand, defensive venoms are designed to cause pain and consequently they are a good source of toxins that can be used to reveal new information about pain sensing in humans.”
Researchers working on the latter subject, we’re predicting, might struggle to find sufficient volunteers.
Helpful though they may be, avoid assassin bug’s bite
So-called assassin bugs are often the heroes of an orchard, preying on other insects and keeping pest pressures under control. But as many a grower will tell you, when they bite, it often stings — a lot.
Ben Faber, University of California Cooperative Extension advisor based at Ventura, tells of the call he got recently from a grower asking about an insect that had bit him when he picked it up. The bite had caused fearsome pain and some swelling.
But, Faber says in the UC Tree Fruit, Citrus, Avocado, and Nuts blog, such bites usually don’t require medical attention unless the recipient has an anaphylactic reaction, such as generalized swelling, itching, hives or difficulty breathing.
WHAT ARE ASSASSINS?
Assassin bugs from the family Reduviidae, the order Hemiptera, and the suborder Heteroptera fall into some 7,000 species worldwide, of which about 50 are native to California. All Hemiptera have tubular mouthparts with stylets that help them pierce tissue and, in some cases, help the insect feed on blood. For example, so-called “kissing bugs” are so named because they often bite people on the face near the mouth.
Many species of assassin bugs sit on flowers or leaves, where they stalk or ambush their prey, Faber notes. Others like to hide in micro-habitats, such as underneath the bark of trees, where they feed on certain beetle and fly larvae that live there.
Of the species native to California, a majority are found in the southern part of the state, although you can find different species everywhere from the low deserts to fairly high elevations in the Sierras.
A common species in the Golden State is the widely-distributed leafhopper assassin bug, which is frequently found even in some back yards. Leafhopper assassin bugs are beneficial, Faber says, in that they eat pests that can be a nuisance to crops and other plants.
There’s no need to panic when you see an assassin bug, although he cautions it’s best not to touch them because they can inflict rather painful bites.
The bug that presents perhaps the most danger is the kissing bug; its bite is painless, but can cause allergic reaction, as well as Chagas disease. If untreated, this disease can live in the body for years, and can eventually lead to heart failure or other internal problems, according to the World Health Organization. Medication can cure it if given early enough, or it can delay or prevent end-stage symptoms.
The protozoan that causes Chagas disease, Trypanosoma cruzi, isn’t transmitted during the bite, Faber notes. Rather, when the bite gets itchy and the person scratches, feces left by the kissing bug get into the wound and the bloodstream. Typically, California’s kissing bugs blood-feed on woodrats, but will try to feed on other vertebrates, including humans and dogs.
TREAT THE BITE
People who are bitten should wash and apply antiseptic to the site of the bite, and take ibuprofen or another analgesic to reduce the pain, he says. Caladryl or topical corticosteroids may help reduce swelling or itching at the site of the bite.
To read Faber’s full blog post, go to https://bit.ly/2CZp1rO
Raupp, who’s known as “the Bug Guy” (not to be confused with Fagerlund’s “Bugman”), says that on the Doberman Scale, with 0 representing easy comfort and 10 the pain you’d experience in a full-on mauling by said attack dog, the wheel bug manages “less than a 5.”
Not even half as bad.
“Once they get to be adults, they can definitely give you a bite,” he told me, but he ranked its wallop below that packed in the notoriously painful sting of the bald-faced hornet. Any other comparisons were beyond his expertise: “I have to be honest with you,” he said. “I’ve never been bitten by a rattlesnake, and I’ve never suffered a gunshot wound.”
All of this would be academic had the wheel bug remained in hiding. But over the past few years, entomologists in the Mid-Atlantic have received anecdotal reports of the insect’s growing prevalence. Raupp attests to it, as well: Until recently, he and his students rarely encountered wheel bugs on their forays into the woods around UM’s campus, even when they were hunting specifically for them; the ever-reclusive insects “rarely showed themselves.” Nowadays, however, “it’s no surprise to encounter a wheel bug,” he said.
The difference, he believes, is a jump in the predator’s food supply, especially an entrée called the brown marmorated stink bug. Native to Asia, this distant cousin of the wheel bug apparently snuck into the United States in shipboard freight, and first drew the notice of Pennsylvania scientists in the late nineties. It has since spread to more than 40 states, feasting on fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals.
Nowhere is the invader a bigger pest than in the states of the coastal Mid-Atlantic, where it has proved a scourge to farmers and homeowners alike: the stink bugs, which use their probosces to suck up plant innards rather than meat, wreak havoc on croplands and, with the cooler evenings of autumn, invade homes, offices, classrooms and shops in search of warmth. Where I live in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, they slip around screens and under doors and seemingly through walls, becoming ubiquitous inside and out by early October.
And right behind them, Raupp believes, are wheel bugs, which happen to love the taste of their foreign kin—an assertion borne out by Raupp’s own experiments in which he and his students have baited trees with stink bugs and watched as wheel bugs turned up for a feed.
That and other experiments have led Raupp to theorize that we’re witnessing what he describes as a “numerical response, where you see the increase of a predator population in response to an increase in its available prey.” In other words, the wheel bug has not simply shifted its distribution to take advantage of a new food source—an ungainly flyer, it’s not mobile enough for that. Rather, it appears that its numbers have swelled to fill a natural void.
Which means, Raupp said, that as long as we’re stuck with the stink bug, we’re likely to see more of this formidable creature both in the woods and on the porch. “Because the stink bug can be a very urban and suburban pest—because people have vegetable gardens and there are overwinter shelters,” he said, “it makes sense that the wheel bug would appear with greater frequency in and around our homes.”
That might seem a bad thing, especially after you take in a nightmarish installment of Raupp’s “Bug of the Week” online video series starring a wheel bug wielding its wicked beak on a hapless caterpillar—a clip Raupp himself calls “awesome and gruesome at the same time.”
But, no—both he and Fagerlund say that the bug’s voracious habits make it an ally in the garden and orchard. It’s considered a beneficial insect. Scary though it is, you should let it be.
Bottom line: give the wheel bug plenty of room. And be advised that it acquires its telltale wheel only as an adult, after five molts. As a smaller nymph, it passes through some stages, or “instars,” with bright orange-red markings, which you should recognize as a warning if you see it trying to slip into home or tent. It packs a bite, even as a tyke. Watch where you put your hands.
Filed To: NatureEnvironmentScience Lead Illustration: Erin Wilson
Assassin Bugs: A Natural Predator In Your Garden
Assassin bugs are beneficial insects that should be encouraged in your garden. There are around 150 species of assassin bugs in North America, most of which perform a service to the gardener and farmer. The insects prey on insect eggs, leafhoppers, aphids, larvae, boll weevils and others. The assassin bug is found in crop fields but is also a common insect in the home landscape.
Assassin Bug Identification
Assassin bugs are 1/2 to 2 inches long and have a curved mouth part that looks like a scimitar. They may be brown, tan, red, blackish yellow and often bi-colored. The curved mouth part acts as a siphon. After the bug catches its prey in its spiny or sticky front legs, it will stick the mouth part into the insect and suck out its liquids. The largest of the species, the wheel bug, has a cog-shaped dome on its back that resembles a ship’s wheel.
Learn About Assassin Bugs
The assassin bug female lays eggs several times during the warm season. The eggs are oval and brown and are usually attached to the underside of a leaf. The larva are similar in appearance to the adults and have the same long body. They do not have wings and must go through four to seven instars or growth periods before they are adults. This takes approximately two months and then the cycle starts anew. The nymphs are prey to birds, large arthropods and rodents. The assassin bug adults overwinter in leaves, bark and debris.
Assassin bugs are found in weedy or bushy cover during the warm summer months. They may be in wildflowers, especially goldenrod, towards fall. They are also common in woodland areas, hedges and along roads, fences and trails. The insects move slowly and are easy to spot.
As mentioned, assassin bugs are wonderful beneficial insects to have in your garden. They will hunt down and eat many of the harmful bugs that are frequently found in the garden, which reduces the need for manual or chemical pest control. Unlike praying mantis or ladybugs, assassin bugs are not sold at garden centers for pest control, but understanding their benefits and knowing what they are able to do for you can prevent you from accidentally mistaking this helpful bug as a threat to your garden.
Assassin Bug Bites
As beneficial as they are in the garden, assassin bugs will bite if handled or disturbed. Their bite is not considered threatening, but it can be painful. The bite remains painful and swells and itches for a period afterward, much like a bee sting or a mosquito. It injects a toxin that some people are allergic to. Any excessive pain or swelling should be reported to your doctor.
Everything You Need To Know About Assassin Bug Bites
You may have been looking into assassin bugs, after all, their name is very intriguing, and wondered does an assassin bug bite? The simple answer is yes. They bite for different reasons – some bite to feed and others will bite as a defensive mechanism when provoked. Either way, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of an assassin bug bite. Trust me.
For our purposes here, we will examine the bites in two sections: kissing bugs and all other species of assassin bugs. For ease, we’ll use the term assassin bugs to refer to all assassin bugs except for kissing bugs and we’ll use the term kissing bugs to refer only to (you probably guessed) kissing bugs. We do this for simplicity and also because the bite of the kissing bug is very different than that of all the other assassin bugs.
We are going to look at the main things you need to know about an assassin bug bite. First of all, we need to know how to recognize the bites and what are the associated symptoms. Then we will move on to whether or not assassin bug bites are harmful to humans and find out if they suck our blood. To finish we’ll talk about to prevent an assassin bug bite yourself or through the help of a professional.
The Symptoms of An Assassin Bug Bite
As we mentioned, all species of assassin bugs are unlikely to bite you unless provoked, except the kissing bugs. They do not seek out humans to bite and prefer to avoid us which is good news. The most common ways an average person will be bitten by an assassin bug is from an accidental encounter or through careless handling. Never risk handling an assassin bug if you can help it.
Assassin bugs are found all over the world so you can run into one almost anywhere. You are most likely to have an encounter outside in the garden. As beneficial garden insects, we like them because they eat the bugs that are harmful to our garden, but they themselves are not harmful to the garden. Some people can also have assassin bugs in their home but that would be much rarer.
If you are unlucky enough to be bitten by an assassin bug, you will probably know it. They are not stealth biters and you are likely to see them do it. If you don’t see them do it, or don’t get a good look at the bug that bit you, you can look for the assassin bug bite symptoms.
The symptoms of an assassin bug bite will vary from person to person. People with softer, more sensitive skin will usually react worse than people who have thicker skin. Chances are if you are one of those people who gets a mosquito bite that swells more than average, your reaction to the assassin bug bite will also be more severe. The assassin bug bites are often itchy like a mosquito bite as well.
The assassin bug bite occurs when the bug uses their piercing mouthpart to break your skin. This is the same thing they do to their prey. They inject a paralyzing toxin into their prey which also liquefies their insides. Then, they suck out the fluid. Luckily for us, the toxin if not harmful to humans. It’s not going to liquefy your insides, don’t worry. You’re not going to be temporarily paralyzed either. What you will be left with is a painful bite.
The assassin bug’s bite can range from a small dot that will be similar to a mosquito bite to a large, swollen lesion. You should be able to see the place where the skin was pierced with their mouthparts. Unlike mosquito bites, assassin bug bites are immediately painful. The pain is quite severe and would be at least as bad as a wasp or bee sting, but it is usually worse than that.
Assassin bug bites can become infected because the assassin bugs carry bacteria in their mouths. Swelling can also be caused by the infection of the bite. If this occurs or if you just want to be on the safe side you can consult a doctor. Most assassin bug bites (remember, we’re not talking about kissing bugs here) do not require a trip to the doctor.
Now, let’s see why we have separated the kissing bugs from other assassin bugs when it comes to their bites. There are a couple main differences in a kissing bug bite vs an assassin bug bite in terms of symptoms – pain and location of the bite site. The first is that you don’t feel it when they bite you. There is no intense, immediate pain. When the kissing bug bites its saliva will act as an anticoagulant and also numb the area so you barely feel the bite at all. People mostly report no pain even after the bite. The kissing bug bite is most likely to happen at night while you are sleeping. Because of this, their bites may be confused with those of the bedbug.
Another difference that we need to note in the location of the kissing bug bite. As we discussed, assassin bugs by when provoked or surprised. As a result, their bites are most likely to be your hands or feet (especially if you are walking in the garden without shoes). The kissing bug bite occurs almost exclusively on the face. The most common area to get a bite is around your mouth and to a lesser extent, your eyes. Makes sense that they got the name kissing bugs, doesn’t it?
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The bites are your mouth will usually be in a cluster and are small red dots or bumps. They may be itchy. The experience is altogether unpleasant.
Kissing Bugs and Chagas Disease
Along with the symptoms at the actual bite location, kissing bugs present another and more dangerous risk. Kissing bugs (not other assassin bugs) are carriers of Chagas disease. Chagas disease, also known as American Trypanosomiasis, can be life-threatening and is caused by a protozoan parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi.
The parasite is not transferred from the kissing bug bite itself but rather through tier feces. The bite, which is a break in the skin, is the opening for any fluids or feces that may enter due to the presence of the bug on your body. They leave traces of their feces behind. Once you have the bite and scratch the skin, this action can cause the feces to be spread around and there is a higher likelihood of the parasites finding a way into your bloodstream.
The symptoms of Chagas disease are long and vary from person to person. The disease can be cured if caught early. It’s also important to know that approximately 60% of kissing bugs carry the parasites that cause Chagas disease. So, just because you have been bitten, doesn’t mean you are necessarily infected. The best thing to do if you suspect or know you have kissing bug bites is to wash and disinfect the bite area immediately and then consult a doctor.
In the acute (beginning) phase, Chagas disease symptoms can be things like fever, fatigue, swelling of the injection site, headache, body ache, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, rash and swollen glands. Unfortunately, these are the same symptoms of a number of different medical problems. The one symptom of the bite of the kissing but that is somewhat unique is the swelling on the area around your eye. While this doesn’t occur in all cases is it definitely something to watch out for.
As the disease progresses, you can end up with heart, liver or spleen problems which can be fatal. This is not something to be taken lightly so if you suspect anything at all, go to the doctor. Even if it’s nothing, you’ll be glad you did. If you wait too long, the disease may progress too far. There is simple medication to treat and cure but it must be administered as close to the infection instance as possible and certainly within the acute phase.
Chagas Disease and Your Pets
If your pet is bitten by an assassin bug, they are likely to have a similar reaction to us. Pain and possibly swelling at the bite site. The bad news is that kissing bugs who bite your cat or dog may transfer the same parasites to cause Chagas disease. Yes, pets can get Chagas disease too.
The symptoms of Chagas disease in your dog in the acute (beginning) phase will be depression, lethargy, diarrhea, seizures, anemia, difficulty walking and swollen lymph nodes. They can also suffer from an enlarged spleen and an increased heart rate.
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Younger dogs contract the acute form of Chagas whereas older dogs are more likely to suffer from the chronic form. Like in humans, if you notice a change in your dog’s behavior, head to the vet to be safe.
Cats can also get Chagas disease but it seems to work a little differently with them. They are more likely to be carriers of the disease rather than suffer from any of the acute or chronic effects. It rare cases Chagas disease can cause your cat to have convulsions or real-leg paralysis.
Are Assassin Bug Bites Harmful To Humans
As we have just covered, the kissing bug bite can absolutely be harmful to humans. The risk of Chagas alone makes it something you need to be aware of. Depending on your location, Chagas disease will be more or less common. If you only have the other species of assassin bugs in your area then you don’t need to worry about it unless you are traveling. The same goes for your pets.
Kissing bugs can be found in the Southern and Western United States, Central and South America. Incidents of Chagas disease are most common in South America. It is estimated that Chagas disease affects about 8 million people in North and South America. So it’s definitely out there.
We know that kissing bugs are bad but are the other species of assassin bugs bites harmful? The good news is no, they are not. There is a risk of infection but aside from that and the intense pain, the assassin bug bite should clear up on its own with no remaining side effects or symptoms.
Does An Assassin Bug Suck Blood?
There are many terrifying tales out there about assassin bugs, whose name is scary enough on its own. We know that they bite but do they also suck our blood? There is an easy way to settle this – kissing bugs do suck our blood whereas the other species of assassin bugs do not.
These seemingly evil bloodsuckers feed on the blood of humans as well as other warm-blooded animals, like our pets. You can see why it’s important to know the symptoms of Chagas disease in your pets as well. They are like mosquitoes, who also feed on blood and can transmit serious diseases like West Nile Virus and Dengue Fever.
It was thought that kissing bugs fed on blood exclusively but that has been disproved. They are now known to eat some plants as well. This was shown in a study where the kissing bugs were exposed to cherry tomatoes. When they ate the cherry tomatoes, they were more healthy. They were more hydrated, had more energy and lived longer. More energy and a long life? That means they suck more blood and around longer to do it. Comforting.
Perhaps the most terrifying part about kissing bugs and their bite is that only bite you during the night when you are sleeping. When you’re sleeping you’re stationary and make a much easier target. You will likely not feel the bite at all so you will not wake up and interrupt their meal. They feed until they’re full and then find a hiding place to wait out the daytime and start all over again.
As mentioned, they inject an anticoagulant as they bite you. This means that they can suck out the blood continuously without it clotting. I’m guessing it might be hard for you to sleep tonight with all the new information, right?
How To Prevent Assassin Bug Bites
Now that we know about the harm and pain an assassin can inflict it’s a good idea to take just a few steps to protect your home. Since assassin bugs are beneficial to your garden and only bite when frightened or provoked, you can prevent them quite easily without killing them or excluding them from the area. All you need to do is be careful. Wear shoes and very thick gloves as much as possible when working in the garden.
Getting assassin bugs, and more specifically kissing bugs, inside your home is a different story. If they are already present inside then you should use chemicals to kill them yourself or hire a pest control professional.
If you don’t currently have a problem with them inside, then you should do a few things around the house now to stop (or at least deter) them from ever coming in. Here are some things you can do yourself to assassin bug-proof your home
- Make sure all your windows and doors have screens. The screens must be completely free of tear, holes or gaps of any kind.
- Don’t leave doors open without screens for any longer than necessary.
- Install door guards under your doors so there is no gap between the bottom of the door and threshold.
- Reduce plants and debris around the exterior perimeter of your house.
- Purchase and install bug friendly outdoor lights. Assassin bugs are attracted to regular lights anti-insect lights with a more yellowish color are available.
- Use caulking to seal any cracks or crevices around your home. Pay special attention to the things that go from inside to outside like dryer vents and air conditioning returns. Make sure there’s no way in.
- Assassin bugs eat other bugs so make sure there are no other insects living in your home to attract them. Take out the garbage and recycling quickly.
All this work will help you sleep easier without the fear of the vampire kissing bugs. It’s also beneficial to keep out other insects so you’ll be helping to keep your home free of other pests too.
It’s a good thing you have now learned how dangerous the assassin bug bites are on humans and pets so you can now act appropriately. If you suspect kissing bugs, you can go to the doctor or vet quickly while Chagas disease, if contracted, is still curable.
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Get To Know The Kissing Bug: A Little Insect With A Big Reputation
It’s likely you’ve heard the words “kissing bug” pop up recently. The kissing bug (also known as an “assassin bug” or “Chagas bug”) has many people concerned because it can carry a parasite that causes Chagas disease. But before you lock the kids inside for the summer, do two things. First, rest assured that Chagas disease is extremely rare in the U.S. And second, take a look at the following assassin bug facts so you’re better informed about kissing bugs.
What is a Kissing Bug?
The kissing bug belongs to the Reduviidae family of insects. This family is also referred to as assassin bugs.
But this family of bugs doesn’t get the name “assassin” because it transmits Chagas disease (also known as kissing bug disease). They’re called assassins because they pierce their prey—think other bugs, caterpillars and flies—with their long mouthpieces. Then they inject their prey with a paralyzing poison.
So assassin bugs aren’t really evil. They’re just the victims of a confusing name. In fact, many types of assassin bug are actually beneficial to farmers and gardeners. The kissing bug is the member of the assassin bug family who preys on mammals, birds and even snakes, rather than other insects. It can carry a parasite that causes kissing bug disease in its fecal matter.
We call them kissing bugs because when they bite humans, they usually do so around the face and mouth. And while the bites themselves won’t hurt anyone, infected fecal matter that’s rubbed into a bite wound or a mucous membrane—like an eye—can make a person sick, according to the CDC.
First of all, if you think you’ve spotted a kissing bug, don’t pick it up with your bare hands to get a better look. By no means has kissing bug disease even come near epidemic proportions in the U.S., but there’s no need to play with fire.
What does a kissing bug look like?
Remember, kissing bugs have a long, straight proboscis. They also have bulging eyes on the sides of their heads, and six narrow legs. If you do come across one, it’s likely to be at night.
Insects that May Be Mistaken for Kissing Bugs
Insects are everywhere, whether or not we want to admit it. And there are many that can be mistaken for kissing bugs. To name a few :
Bed bugs – You don’t want to find them in your home. But a bed bug is not a Chagas bug. It’s much smaller and lacks many of the distinctive features, like the long thin legs and pear-shaped body.
Stink bugs – Pentatomidae if you want to be formal. This family of insects can sometimes be confused for kissing bugs. While you don’t want to handle them—they’re called “stink bugs” for a reason—they won’t hurt you.
Wheel bugs – Meet yet another type of assassin bug. Wheel bugs are easy to spot thanks to the ridged wheels protruding from their backs. Their bite is one of the most painful you can receive from an insect due to an intense toxin, so we wouldn’t suggest handling them.
Kissing Bug Habitat and Population
Where do kissing bugs live?
CDC findings show that the kissing bug has been reported in about half of the U.S. states. And it’s not only found in the South. The Chagas bug has also been spotted in states such as Hawaii, Pennsylvania, California and Colorado.
However, kissing bugs tend to prefer woodland areas to your home. The CDC indicates that the way most U.S. homes are built makes it hard for assassin bugs to get in, though they can slip through cracks and holes. It’s much more likely you’d find kissing bugs under porches, in chicken coops or dog houses and under woodpiles. Kissing bugs more or less frequent areas that rodents like to live in.
It’s pretty rare that a home in the U.S. is invaded by kissing bugs. And in the cases in which this does happen, it usually occurs on secluded properties in wooded areas.
What Are the Symptoms of Chagas Disease?
Most cases of Chagas disease are brought back from travels to South or Central America. Again it’s very rare for kissing bug disease to be found in the U.S. The CDC reports that the severity and course of infection in individuals who are infected with Chagas disease can vary with each strain of the parasite. And there are two phases of the illness, according to the Mayo Clinic:
1. The acute phase can last for weeks or months. Sometimes there are mild or no symptoms in this phase. They include:
- Swelling at the site of the bite
- Body aches
- Eyelid swelling
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting
- Swollen glands
- Enlargement of the liver or spleen
2. The chronic phase can occur anywhere from 10 to 20 years after a person is infected. Or symptoms may never show up at all. If a case is severe, though, symptoms can include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Congestive heart failure
- Sudden heart attack
- Difficulties swallowing due to an enlarged esophagus
- Abdominal pain or constipation due to an enlarged colon
So before you panic about kissing bugs, take some time to study your assassin bug facts. And if you’re looking to keep your research on this family of insects going, we’ve got the information you need.
Next > Don’t Let These 5 Pests Ruin Your Vacation
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The One Kind of Bug You Want in Your Garden
If you’re like most gardeners, you spend an inordinate amount of time (and chemicals) trying to banish bugs that could destroy your harvest and strip your colorful blooms. While you can probably spot such culprits as aphids, squash bugs, and tomato worms, you might not know that other insects can be your secret weapon against them. Like characters in an espionage novel, there’s a whole class of assassin bugs lying in wait to wallop the crawlies you most despise. Learn to understand them here!
RELATED: The Good Guys: 8 Beneficial Bugs for Your Garden
GET TO KNOW THE NATURAL PREDATORS
Assassin bugs are members of the Reduviidae family, and true to their name, these tiny ninja warriors prey on the enemies of precious plants. So its no wonder that experienced gardeners view them as friends—especially those who take a natural approach and like to limit their use of pesticides. Assassin bugs blithely poison and then devour their victims, but there are caveats. For one thing, these killers don’t discriminate, so they’re just as apt to go after the lady beetles (also known as ladybugs) that also feed on small insects like aphids. They also can administer a painful bite to people and pets, so it’s wise to take care around them.
With more than 160 species of assassin bugs in North America (nearly 3,000 worldwide), you might wonder how it’s possible to identify the little buggers. Fortunately, they share some recognizable characteristics. As adults, they range from ½- to 1-¼-inch in length, and many are brown, gray, or black, although a few are brightly colored. They have round protruding eyes, six legs, long antennae, and a long narrow head that gives them the appearance of having a neck. Their most easily identifiable feature is a sharp, three-segmented hollow beak, called a “rostrum.”
Here’s the 411 on two common species.
• Pest enemy number one: The most highly recognizable assassin is the wheel bug. At 1-¼-inch in length, it’s the largest species in North America, gray in color and sporting a raised semi-circular crest on its back that resembles a wheel with protruding spokes. It’s the easiest assassin bug to ID, and also the most common.
• Assassins that ambush: Ambush bugs, a subfamily of assassin bugs (Phymatinae), are so named because they blend in with their surroundings and remain very still, catching their unsuspecting prey off-guard. They’re among the smaller assassin bugs, reaching only ½-inch as adults, but like their fellows have the same three-segmented rostrum and elongated head. The most common type of ambush bugs in North America are jagged ambush bugs, identifiable by their flat triangular bodies with serrated edges. Jagged ambush bugs come in a variety of colors, including green, which allows them to camouflage themselves easily on plant leaves.
DEATH BY VENOM
With their needle-sharp rostrums, assassin bugs pierce the bodies of their victims and inject a lethal toxin that quickly kills the unlucky insect or caterpillar. The toxin also liquefies the insides of prey, and the assassin then sucks up the liquid through its hollow rostrum; when done feeding, it leaves behind just an empty shell. Assassin bugs can also use their long rostrums in self-defense when necessary, being able to squirt venom up to an inch in some cases.
HABITAT, HUNTING GROUNDS, AND LIFE CYCLE
If you have a garden, even a small one, or a few outdoor container plants, odds are you have a few assassin bugs. Most have no preference for a specific type of plant, and they hang out in orchards, vegetable gardens, ornamental flowerbeds—virtually everywhere their prey is also found. Ambush bugs, however, are attracted to blooming plants and flowering trees; flowers with large blooms, such as sunflowers, are among their favorite hunting grounds.
In fall, the female assassin bug deposits her eggs under leaves and in plant crevices. The eggs overwinter and then hatch into nymphs (immature bugs) the following spring. The nymphs undergo several growing stages, each one accompanied by the shedding of its skin (molting), and by summer, the nymph reaches adulthood. Assassin bugs are resilient—nymphs, adults, and eggs can all survive temperatures below zero, so assassin bugs are capable of living several years.
HELP THEM HELP YOU
Assassin bugs can be a natural gardener’s best friend, controlling detrimental insects without chemical pesticides. If you have more plant-eating insects than assassin bugs, however, you may need to give them a leg-up by applying a narrow-spectrum pesticide designed to kill only a specific type of insect. A narrow-spectrum pesticide that kills only ants, for example, won’t harm assassin bugs. Since some assassin bugs are attracted to flowers, you may be able to entice these beneficial bugs to your vegetable garden by planting a few prolific bloomers among the rows of cucumbers and peppers. When the tomato worms and squash bugs show up, the assassin bugs will be ready and waiting.
GIVE THEM A WIDE BERTH
Although there are exceptions—such as the transmission of Chagas, a disease related to an insect known as the kissing bug—the bite of an assassin bug rarely requires medical attention. And while Chagas can come from a kissing bug bite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s most often transmitted through exposure to the bug’s feces or through the blood transmission of an infected person.
Bites from an assassin bug, however, can be very painful. The long rostrum the bug uses to kill its prey can easily pierce human skin. If you find an assassin bug on your body or clothing, flick it off sideways to remove it. Smashing it almost guarantees you’ll receive a painful bite for your efforts.
Not only is the name of this species the “assassin” bug, but some types will feed on the blood of humans! This bug is located in almost every continent and can be found in a variety of places, even in apartments! While these creatures while may only get as big as 4 inches, they pack a powerful punch. These bugs hunt by piercing its victims and injecting a toxin that liquifies the targets organs. The assassin bug then drinks the remaining fluid from its prey.
While these bugs sound horrifying, they more often than not help the environment they live in. Assassin bugs are strictly secondary consumers and a lot of their diet includes pests. Due to this, they are an organic option when maintaining plant life in a garden. These bugs won’t even eat the plants they stand on, they would only use it as a place to hunt. However, while these insects are very helpful, they don’t have the best relationships with humans. Many reports have been made on careless people being attacked and bitten by a type of assassin bug.
These bugs are also very intelligent. Certain types of assassin bugs such as Termite-eating assassin bugs use dead termites to attract live ones! Additionally, a type of assassin bug that eats bees will cover its legs with tree resin to attract them.
Now it’s one thing for a bug to be a good hunter, but these bugs are able to manipulate their environment in order to increase success in terms of hunting. These bugs are able to plan for food before it comes, which is an evolutionary trait that may separate species from each other. When scientists theorized the development of human beings, a popular idea is that the prefrontal cortex caused humans to evolve into the people they are today. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for planning events in the same way. If these bugs are operating in a similar fashion, there’s no telling what may happen in the future. The ability for these animals to do this is astounding.
The severity of this bug highlights the deadliness of the insect world. While human beings have many threats, an insect has lurking predators from seemingly every corner. These bugs are extremely deadly and even they have predators. This really emphasizes the nature of bugs. For the most part they look like aliens, and they practice survival of the fittest on a day to day level. Thankfully, must bugs aren’t able to permanently harm humans.