Boo! This appropriately colored assassin bug is here in celebration of one of the best holidays around. This is the milkweed assassin bug (Zelus longipes) and is widely distributed throughout most southern parts of the United States. I found this little nymph during my visit to Florida last February. You can tell it’s a nymph because the full wings have not yet appeared. These insects are generalist predators, feeding on an array of soft-bodied insects and other arthropods.
Not only are the body colors appropriate for Halloween, the way this insect hunts is also quite ghoulish. This assassin bug will hide amongst foliage with its long front legs dangling in front. The legs are covered with a sticky material that traps any prey that might be wandering by. Once a prey item is trapped on the legs of Z. longipes, the assassin bug will then insert its long and hypodermic needle-like mouthparts into that prey. Enzymes are released into the prey’s body so that it is digested externally and then Z. longipes sucks up the delicious meal. This little assassin can apparently feed on prey that are six times its size.
I hope that this year you get more treats than tricks like this “sticky trap strategy” that the milkweed assassin employs! Happy Halloween!
Hart ER (1986) Genus Zelus Fabricius in the United States, Canada, and Northern Mexico (Hemiptera: Reduviidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 79: 535-548.