Tuesday, 9 September 2014

In pursuit of unknown assassin bugs

Entomologist Christiane Weirauch is passionate about studying a group of bugs that have a formidable name: assassin bugs. A professor of entomology at the University of California, Riverside, she travels worldwide in search of these insects that acquire their name from how they stealthily await prey—usually other insects —only to stab them with their beaks. The bug then injects venom into the prey's body, paralyzing it and dissolving the tissue into a gooey liquid that it feeds upon.

Assassin bugs (family Reduviidae) belong to the order Hemiptera and the suborder Heteroptera, the so called "true bugs." Altogether, nearly 7,000 species of assassin bugs have been described worldwide, of which about 50 are native to California. All Hemiptera have tubular mouthparts with stylets that help them pierce tissues of plants and other creatures. The stylets may also help them suck blood. Indeed, 140 species of assassin bugs are specialized to feed on blood. Spreaders of Chagas disease, these are the kissing bugs, so named because they frequently bite people on the face around the mouth.

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