Sigh it’s November and you know what that means? Nope neither do I. Last week a pair of disgusting worms; Parborlasia corrugatus and Eulagiscia gigantea menaced this blog for Halloween. This week we have an insect that brings new meaning to the term ‘body armour’.
Issue #38 Corpse Assassin Bug
Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Arthropoda
Class – Insecta
Order – Hemiptera
Family – Reduviidae
Genus – Acanthaspis
Species – petax
Related Species - The family Reduviidae contains around 7000 species of insect, all of which are predators or exo-parasites (1)
Range - Corpse Assassin Bugs live across a wide swath of South East Asia and Africa, often in scrub and dry forest habitats
Assassin by Name…
The Assassin Bug Acanthaspis petax is a small insect that grows to only a single cm in length. Adult Corpse Assassin Bugs are flat backed black insects with narrow heads and a long curved rostom (2). This rostom, a segmented tube with a barbed tip attaching to the mouth, can be curved under the insect’s body in a groove under the thorax. By flicking the rostom in and out of the groove the Assassin Bug can make a grating hiss noise, which is used in defence to startle predators
The rostom is more commonly used in offence however, with the Assassin Bug stabbing it into its prey before secreting an enzyme that liquefies the targets insides allowing the insect to drink its prey. Adult Assassin Bugs discard the remaining husk but their young, or nymphs, use an adhesive to attach the bodies to their back. The majority of the Corpse Assassin Bug’s ‘trophies’ are ants, and it can attach up to twenty husks to it’s back, all of which are lost when the insect sheds it’s skin.
The reason for this macabre defence can be seen by examining nymphs of other species. Most of which are slow moving and easy to spot, especially by predators such as Jumping Spiders and Geckos. By adding dead ants to their exoskeletons there is a greater chance that a predator will be dissuaded from attacking, either through the residual acid and venom in the ant corpses, or simply because the nymph looks too large to easily take down.
Five Devious Assassin Bug Tricks
The Corpse Assassin Bug isn't the only insect to glue items to its exoskeleton; The Masked Hunter (Reduvius personatus), also an Assassin Bug, glues dust and sand to itself to camouflage it from predators.
One Assassin Bug (Salyavata variegata) uses adhesive mounds for offense. It kills a termite and then glues the husk to itself, triggering the colonies ‘body collection’ mentality. As more termites are killed the more effective the Assassin Bugs trap is until it’s forced to move by sheer volume of termite bodies.
Feather Legged Assassin Bugs (Ptilocnemus lemur) use their own bodies as traps. One species uses feathery attachments to its hind legs to lure ants to it, before turning round and grabbing them when they start chewing on its legs (3).
Some Assassin Bugs risk their lives even more then the previous species by vibrating the webs of spiders, in order to lure their hosts into striking range.
A few Assassin Bugs actually are able to kill (indirectly) people. These ‘Kissing Bugs’ are parasites and spread a pathogen called Chagas Disease. It is thought that Charles Darwin caught, and later suffered for the rest of his life, from Chagas Disease spread by an Assassin Bug (4)
1 - www.arkive.org
2 - Sahayaraj, Kitherin; Kanna, Ayyachamy Vinoth; Kumar, Subramanian Muthu (2010). "Gross Morphology of Feeding Canal, Salivary Apparatus and Digestive Enzymes of Salivary Gland of Catamirus brevipennis (Servile) (Hemiptera: Reduviidae)". Journal of the Entomological Research Society12 (2): 37–50.
3 - http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22129613.900-baby-assassin-bugs-lure-in-deadly-ants.html#.VFkpYjSsXE0
4 - Adler D (1989). "Darwin's Illness". Isr J Med Sci25 (4): 218–21.
1 - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a0/Acanthaspis_WG.jpg
2 - http://dailygeekshow.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Acanthaspis-Petax.jpg
And that’s the macabre styling of the Corpse Assassin Bug as well as the devious tricks used by its relatives. Next week we meet a predator feared more then even sharks by some who live in this creatures range. Until then comment, critic and catch up with the library of Past Issues in Impurest’s Bestiary