Fall Friends!

Since we are in the heart of Fall and with me having a heart for entomology I would love to take the chance to talk about my favorite beneficial insect in our gardens, THE ASSASSIN BUG!

I always get very excited when I see one in my garden or even traces of them around. My attraction for them goes far beyond their awesome name and more to their superpowers (adaptations). They have very acute eyesight and are considered ambush predators (mostly). To catch prey they will either hide and wait in/on flowers or stalk/lure them in with tricks. Once they have their prey they will pierce it with their proboscis and inject a toxin that will paralyze their food which allows them to feast without having to struggle. Word of warning: Be careful they can bite and inject this toxin into you also, while its not life threatening it is pretty painful. Being bit by one a couple years back is how I first started respecting and appreciating this botanical buddy! 

More often than not you will see a tiny glimpse of them from a far. Assassins and young nymphs generally will be brightly colored while wheel bugs and most adults will turn to a brown/grayish color. The wheel bug is hard to miss since it looks like it has a gear coming out of its back!

Wheel bug, Arilus cristatus is a common, widely distributed, beneficial assassin bug that preys on pest insects – grey color red legs – crawling on wood fence post

As you approach, you can see how well their eyes work as they move themselves away from your eyesight! This time of year they are laying their eggs which will overwinter in our gardens. If you see a tight hexagonal pattern of what looks like brown bottles standing up in sheltered locations then you more than likely will have assassins. A healthy batch should emerge anywhere from April to June so keep your eyes open for them! 

Assassin Bug Eggs of the Family Reduviidae

One of the things I love is how they craftily lure in prey. Because of their voracious appetites they are almost always looking for their next meal. Some techniques entomologists have observed is that they will cover their forearms in sap to lure in prey or they will leave a carcass laying around close by to attract others who may try to capitalize off of it. This technique works well for them since they will basically eat anything that comes near them, including their own kind. Down side is that they are indiscriminate in their diets where they will also get ahold of bees and lady beetles. Most entomologist and enthusiasts would still agree that having these in your garden is more beneficial than not and a sign of a healthy ecosystem. 

To attract these friends to your garden try these simple tips:

  1. Provide colorful flowers for them to ambush prey in.
  2. Avoid pesticides… if you are increasing any beneficial or not you must stray away from pesticides. 
  3. Assassins are attracted to light sources, providing light around your garden will help them out. Remember they have extremely acute vision for hunting in!
  4. Provide an oasis – a small dish of water helps all garden inhabitants. (This is a great way to bring birds back to your gardens also!)

Guest Blogger

Joshua Clawson,

Account Executive at Johnson Nursery

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