The Assassin Bug – Malaysia’s Macabre Miniscule Murderer
It is less than a centimeter in length and that is something for which, quite possibly, we can be truly grateful! This assassin bug, found in Malaysia, has a trick up its sleeve once it has finished its dinner. It attaches the empty carcases of its victims on its back – a ploy thought to be an attempt to avoid becoming a victim itself.
Once its potential lunch has been incapacitated the assassin bug injects it with an enzyme. This liquefies the insides of its prey allowing the assassin bug to suck out their innards. Yet death is not the end for these hapless insects. Their exoskeletons will be put to further use as a form of armor or possibly scent masking camouflage.
We’re not talking about the odd exoskeleton either – the assassin bug’s width means it can pile them high, creating a mound of over twenty ‘shells’. The exoskeleton of ants is made of chitin, a particularly sturdy substance which can provide cover for the assassin bug for weeks.
The heap is stuck together by a sticky secretion. As it is usually larger than the bug itself, should another insect decide that the assassin would be good for its next meal it serves as a readymade getaway plan. The attacker goes for the larger part (the hollow exoskeletons) which are then simply shed, allowing the assassin bug to beat a hasty retreat.
This amazing insect (Acanthaspis petax) belongs to the Reduviidae – which consists of about 7000 species, making it almost the largest family in the true bugs (or hemiptera) order. Although fascinating it is perhaps a relief to learn that just a few species make a habit of lugging the emptied out carcasses of their victims around with them!