This week I want to introduce you to our own Deadly Viper Assassination Squad: Platymerus biguttatas or, the Two-Spotted Assassin Bug. If you visited MBHI during our last few months on Front Street, you probably saw this colony of true bugs on exhibit. We’re happy to report that our colony is doing great and is even reproducing!
Two-Spot Assassin Bugs, which are endemic to tropical Africa, begin their life as all arthropods do: as an egg. The eggs are so small and inconspicuous that I (Bug-Wrangler Brenna) had no idea they were even laying until I started noticing the small, brightly colored nymphs crawling out from their hiding spaces on occasion.
Two-Spotted Assassin Bugs belong to the order Hemiptera, or ‘true bugs’. Hemipterans share several similiar characteristics, but one key, defining trait is piercing and sucking mouthparts. Piercing and sucking mouthparts are useful for extracting sap from plants, like most Hemipterans do, but with a name like ‘Assassin Bug,’ you can probably guess that Platymerus biguttatas uses theirs for more… nefarious purposes.
Assassin bugs are ambush predators. They use their rostrum (that’s the “piercing” part) to inject a venom-and-saliva cocktail into their prey once they’ve managed to ambush it. It also means they can deliver a pretty nasty bite to any large predators trying to make them into a meal (or unassuming bug wranglers, though I’ve been extremely cautious when working with the colony and have never been bitten). Recent research has shown that Assassin Bugs actually produce two types of venom; one type for paralyzing and dissolving prey, and one type for inducing pain to predators. Way to allocate your resources, Assassin Squad!