Thanks to Pat Nelson’s sharp eyes, I realized I had mislabeled the bug in yesterday’s blog. It was an Ambush Bug, not an Assassin Bug. While both are predators and in the same family (Reduviidae), Assassin Bugs are usually dark colored and have long, narrow heads compared to Ambush Bugs. Ambush Bugs are usually quite stout and typically have bright colors such as yellow, red or orange. They also have thickened front pincer-like legs with teeth-like structures that hold the prey while it is being consumed. Although small (usually less than ½ inch), an Ambush Bug’s prey may be as large as a bumblebee, wasp or butterfly.
Ambush Bugs are true bugs, in the order Hemiptera. (Although insects are often referred to as “bugs,” technically, only insects in this order are considered and referred to as bugs by entomologists.) All true bugs have piercing and sucking mouthparts, and wings which are membranous and clear at the tips, but hardened at the base.
Ambush Bugs are usually brightly colored (yellow, red or orange) and have thickened front legs which are used to capture prey up to ten times their own size. They live up to their name, patiently lying in wait, motionless, often in goldenrod flowers where they are very well camouflaged, for unsuspecting prey. The Ambush Bug, upon sighting prey, suddenly seizes the prey in its powerful forelegs and quickly dispatches it with a stab from its sharp beak. It then injects digestive enzymes into its prey, after which it drinks the resulting liquid innards.
This time of year you often see the smaller males riding around on the backs of the larger females while the females continue to feed. This behavior is part of the courtship ritual – males actively guard their mate prior to and following copulation. Mating takes place side by side, after which the female deposits her eggs among the leaves or on the stems of flowering plants. Look for Ambush Bugs in yellow and white flowers, especially goldenrod.
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