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How To Be An Assassin February 21, 2010

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Animals, Brain Power, Insects, Think About It.
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Credit: Video generously provided by Anne Wignall of Macquarie University.

Imagine you’re a hungry insect. To get your next meal, you need to be a true assassin, using stealthy tactics to capture your prey. Well if you were an assassin bug, then your plan might read like this:

1. Slowly approach your prey

2. Tap the web before each step

3. Bounce around a bit

4. Grab some web strings

5. POUNCE

It might sound like a strange plan but it works! The assassin bug does all these bizarre movements to trick the spider into thinking it has an insect caught in its web. Once the spider is sure that it has its next meal, it scurries over to the assassin bug. But too bad for the spider, it will now become a tasty meal for this sneaky insect. To find out more about this peculiar bug, I chatted with Anne Wignall of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, who had some of her recent work published in the Journal of Ethology. Anne already knew that some bugs would hunt down spiders but she wanted to find out just how they did it! Anne explained to me:

When I heard that there was a bug that seemed to lure spiders toward them, I was instantly fascinated because it seems like such a crazy thing to do, when spiders are such dangerous predators themselves.

In fact, there is actually one more step in the assassin bug’s plan, which could come in at number six. Once the assassin bug grabs the spider, it sometimes will tap the spider with its antennae. Researchers think this might be a way to hypnotize the spider, making it harder to escape.

A World Of Assassins

The assassin bug in the video above is a species known as Stenolemus bituberus. But if you thought it was the only one, think again! Anne describes just how busy our world really is when you get outside:

There’s also lots and lots of other assassin bug species and insects that use stalking, deception, luring and other cool tactics to hunt other invertebrates, and we’re finding more all the time.

So this means there are way more bugs out there with incredible, assassin-like tactics to capture their prey. For example, Todd Blackledge of the University of Akron in Ohio has been investigating how wasps hunt spiders. He found that adult female wasps will capture spiders and sting them. Ouch! But that isn’t all. The wasp then lays an egg on the spider, which allows the wasp larva to eat the spider, helping it grow into an adult.

Your Garden: A Battleground For Bugs

Now that you’ve checked out the video above, you might actually be able to find one of these creepy crawlies in your garden. Anne suggests that if you live along the east coast of Australia, you should explore the trees and webs in your garden, where you might find an assassin bug battling it out with a spider. Just be glad that while those hungry bugs fight it out, you don’t have to go through anything quite so dramatic when you want to have lunch. In fact, make yourself a nice sandwich, grab your camera, then see what you can find in your backyard!

Comments»

1. Mr.Science - February 21, 2010

Could an praying mantis be an Assasin Bug because in the video the assasin bug looks some what similiar. But another thing don you wonder what the assasin bug is thinking when it is doing that well by that I mean killing the spider.

-Mr.Science

2. Miss Weird Scientist - February 21, 2010

Nope, these are different insects although I can see how you’d think they may be in the same family! Interestingly enough, a praying mantis will actually munch on an assassin bug if given the chance. It’s kind of surprising given that the assassin bug has such fierce predatory tactics!

As for what the assassin bug is thinking, good question! I think this kind of behavior is very instinctual for the assassin bug. It wants food so it gets it!

3. Mr.Science - March 5, 2010

I can see how that would work but what kind of bug would be an assasin bug if not a praying mantis the reason i said praying mantis is because of its size. But now i can see how that wouldnt work.

-Mr.Science

4. Frank Zweegers - April 11, 2010

Wow, that is one smart kind of a bug. Great technique without much risk for the killerbug itself.

5. Jimmy - April 16, 2010

There’s also a spider that feeds from prey caught in another spider’s web. He gets on there and cuts all the links in the web between the prey and the spider who spun the web, then tucks in himself. Can’t remember what the sneaky spider is called though.

6. Hunter Raymond - May 28, 2010

Wow, awesome read!

7. Grace - May 29, 2010

You’ve done it once more! Incredible read!


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