Hit Men in the Native Plant Garden

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.

Sycamore Assassin Bug (Pselliopus sp.)
Sycamore Assassin Bug (Pselliopus sp.)

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.

hunting on Deertongue
hunting on Deertongue

Sycamore Assassin Bugs are known to hibernate as adults under rocks or bark.

I seem to have interrupted his pollinator meal
I seem to have interrupted his pollinator meal

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.

Milkweed Assassin Bug
Milkweed Assassin Bug

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.

Zelus nymph with prey
Zelus nymph with prey

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 seem unconcerned with the size of bullies
Assassin Bugs seem unconcerned with the size of bullies

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.

Common name of Bee Killer probably indicates it isn’t a favorite of your average gardener
Common name of Bee Killer probably indicates it isn’t a favorite of your average gardener

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.

Spiny Assassins on Fleabane. The cycle continues
Spiny Assassins on Fleabane. The cycle continues

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.

Love those stripes!
Love those stripes!

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!

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4 thoughts on “Hit Men in the Native Plant Garden”

  1. I hadn’t known/remembered about the milkweed assassin bug – I need to look and see if I have any on my milkweeds. I do have several milkweed bugs and so far I’ve just ignored them…but a couple small monarch caterpillars are missing from my tropical milkweed and I wonder if a milkweed assassin bug might be the culprit?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think the Zelus sp. are necessarily associated with milkweed. That common name comes because they are the same color as the bugs that feed on milkweed. Can’t say that I’ve ever seen one of these guys on my milkweed. Every time I have captured one in a photo with prey it is of a flying variety so I suspect that something else is dining on your cats. I had a scad of cardinals gleening insects from my zucchini today….I suspect they were enjoying pickleworms 🙂

      Like

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