Friday, March 8, 2019

Backyard Assassins - Assassin Bugs, Zelus renardii

What Are They?

Assassin Bug Up Close
They may look like kissing bugs, but they aren’t! Assassin Bugs are garden predators in the family Reduviidae. They come in an assortment of sizes, shapes and colors ranging from the large, ridge backed wheel bugs to the milkweed assassin bugs (Zelus longipes) dressed for Halloween. The common thread running through them all is their immense appetite for other insects, particularly the plant-feeding kind.

Gardener’s Note: If you look closely, assassin bug egg clusters can be found near food sources laid on leaves and branches.

How Do They Work?

A Wheel Bug Showing Off
Assassin bugs pin prey with their strong front legs and use a “beak” (rostrum) to pierce them, then inject a mixture of digestive enzymes and venom. This noxious concoction liquefies their prey's innards making a bit of a bug slurpee. The same burly front legs used for pinning are coated in a sticky resin that allows these backyard assassins to trap pests without escape, saving them for a later meal. Nimble and hungry, assassin bugs both ambush and actively hunt for food, making them a versatile beneficial predator in gardens and farms. Similar to Minute Pirate Bugs (Orius insidiosus), assassin bugs have a tendency to kill for the sake of killing instead of stopping when they are full. Just what we want as pest-abhorring gardeners. View a video of an assassin bug hunting here (video credit: Smithsonian Channel).

Why Use Them?

"Please don't interrupt my meal. Thank you kindly."
The leafhopper assassin bug gives gardeners and growers a multi-tool predator in the growing area. They gleefully feed at all life stages on most garden pests including aphids, leafhoppers, thrips, small caterpillars and mealybugs. In addition to their broad prospective menu, assassin bugs live for up to two months and reproduce rapidly, making them ideal for continued control of a target pest. If you don't want to use pesticides, assassin bugs will give you a hard working organic defense against your garden foes.

Our assassin bugs (Zelus renardii) are reared locally at our Catalina insectary north of Tucson. They are available online or for in store pickup in 250 count egg clusters. 

- Contributed by Sterling N.

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