This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on November 13, 2014 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.
I met a new Assassin Bug in my garden this week. My place is home to several different subfamilies of assassin bugs which are predators and beneficial in the garden. Assassin Bugs paralyze their prey by injecting toxins that dissolve tissue and easily sucking the juices through their proboscis.
This fellow (or gal) looks a little like a zebra, fancy stripes and all. I haven’t gotten confirmation on exact species yet, but it is in the Pselliopus genus, commonly referred to as the “Sycamore Assassin Bug”. I’m not clear how it got that common name but rest assured, my Sycamore tree is safe. Assassin bugs don’t kill the plants; they are predatory on other insects.
Sycamore Assassin Bugs are known to hibernate as adults under rocks or bark.
I seemed to have interrupted this fella in the middle of making a meal of a small bee or wasp that was nectaring on Hairy Chaffhead (Carphephorus paniculatus). Also known as Deertongue, this plant is native to the southeast, including here in Florida.
The most prevalent assassin in my garden is the Milkweed Assassin Bug (Zelus longipes). Again, no need to hide the milkweed, they get their common name because they are easily mistaken for the Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) a species generally considered a garden pest.
Z. longipes are beneficial, generalist predators feeding on a wide range of soft-bodied prey in garden and fields such as mosquitoes, flies, earthworms, cucumber beetles and caterpillars (fall armyworm, rootworm etc.).
Assassin bugs can be aggressive and do have the capability of biting if disturbed. They are not afraid to take on bullies many times their size including humans.
Another visitor to my place is the Bee Killer Assassin Bug (Apiomerus floridensis). This species seems to have a preference toward capturing bees as prey so it is not as well loved as other members of the Assassin Bug family (Reduviidae). Keep in mind that it also can be high on the beneficial list because it eats hornworms, beetles and other prey that you might consider pest species.
And the last species that has visited recently is the Spiny Assassin Bugs (Sinea sp.). Native Fleabanes (Erigeron spp.) seem to be the favorite hunting ground.
No need for pesticides when you let the assassin bugs do natural biocontrol in your native plant and wildlife garden. I’m loving my new addition!