Assassin bugs range anywhere in size from just a few millimeters to almost two inches. Their name is very descriptive of their means of hunting and feeding. Assassin bugs are carnivorous, and depending on the species, either actively hunt, or sit in wait for their prey.
What do they eat?
Some of the species of assassin bugs are actually parasitic, and will live off of the blood of mammals, including humans. Primarily though, assassin bugs will hunt their food, most commonly consisting of smaller insects such as mealworms, cockroaches, and large caterpillars that can be a few hundred times the assassin bugs own body weight. Amazingly, some tropical species have been known to attack smaller mammals, birds, and reptiles.
How do they kill their prey?
Assassin bugs are equipped with a large beak, called a rostrum, which is much like a mosquito’s proboscis. However, where a mosquito has two tubes inside its proboscis, one to inject and one to suck, an assassin bug has only one large tube within its rostrum, which they use to inject massive amounts of poison into their prey. Using their forelegs, which are lined with many small hairs to assist with grip, they will grab their pray and begin to feed, this time using their beak to suck the liquefied insides. I have not been able to find a chemical composition of their venom, but it is known to be quite painful when injected into a human hand when they bite. One should also take care to handling them, as they can actually spray their venom up to a foot away, with incredible accuracy, even over their shoulder, and this will cause skin irritation, and if hits the eye, temporary blindness.
What is their life cycle like?
Adult assassin bugs will generally lay their eggs during the fall in small cracks and areas with some foliage for cover of their eggs. It will take a few months for the eggs to hatch, and the nymphs will generally be out by spring. The nymphs will go through five molts before they become adults. They generally reach this stage by winter. Life spans can be as long as three years for some species.
Man, these things sound awesome! Can I keep them as pets?
Assassin bugs would definitely be considered one of the more exotic invertebrates to keep as pets. However, with the proper setup and care, one can in fact have them as pets. However, make sure to check with your local laws before ordering them online, the best thing to do would be to check with your local pet or reptile store that carries insects (and not a big chain like Petsmart. They won’t know). If it is legal, congratulations, you too can be an owner of these exotic, dangerous, and beautiful insects.
I checked, and they are legal in my area. Where do I get them?
If your local shop doesn’t carry them (as it most likely will not, even if it is legal), you can talk with the owner about ordering them for you. If that doesn’t work, you can always check online. I’d rather not give any links as to where, to avoid any kind of advertising or favoritism, however, there are many places if you search for “assassin bug pet” in any large search engine.
I got a few! Now how do I take care of them?
First of all, you’re going to need a small aquarium or bug cage, of glass or plastic, to house them in. A good size would be 10 x 10 x 8, which will comfortably house up to 6 adult assassin bugs, as long as there are plenty of hiding places and food available for them. Ask your local shop as to what they sell that would be best to use for groundcover within the tank. If you are ordering online, some of the good things you can use are peat substitute, sand (my personal favorite, comes in various colors), and vermiculite. Take note than when adult assassin bugs are laying eggs, it may be hard to retrieve them out of the vermiculite, or sand, or whatever else you have, and you may choose instead to have it lined with paper, and have only a smaller section that has sand, where they can lay their eggs. Really, its more depending on what you want to do, if you want it to look nicer, I would forego the paper, and just take the time to extract their eggs carefully if you plan to move them, or just let them hatch, after you unbury them.
Make sure that you have a well ventilated covering, but it needs to be secure as well. Assassin bugs can climb slick surfaces, even glass, so you need to be careful. Having one loose in your room, especially one of the more exotic species, is one of the last things you want. Most of the time, the bugs will be hiding out in whatever cover you provide (your local shop can provide plenty of this kind of stuff), such as rocks, cork, or other wood. They will generally come out to only to feed.
The temperature should be around 20-24 degrees Celsius (68-75 degrees Fahrenheit). You want to keep it nice and dry for those adult assassin bugs, and one way of doing this is through a heat pad (which I would personally recommend). This way you can keep a certain area warmer than the rest, so they don’t get too hot. Otherwise, you can use various lamps.
At your local pet store, you will find crickets, mealworms, and waxworms, and these are sufficient for your insect. A good rule of thumb would be to not give the assassin bug anything larger to eat than its own size (if you are keeping just a single assassin bug). If you feel particularly adventurous, you an pit various insects scavenged from your yard against your bug, but beware, he may not always come out the victor. A single assassin bug needs only to be feed about once a week. However, if you are keeping a colony, you are going to want to keep a pretty constant supply of food for them to eat, otherwise they will eat each other. And always remember to take away the corpses and remains of the bugs prey, as it can be pretty unpleasant to smell, and be unsanitary.
This is generally just not a good idea in the first place. When young, you can handle the nymphs, but you will probably want to steer clear of handling the adults. Remember, they are venomous, and CAN bite you. Also, if you happen to be allergic to their poison, you can experience intense itching, and swelling, with large welts and blotches appearing all over your entire body. Make sure to wear gloves if you do decide to handle them. Safety first!
As long as you have an adult male and female, sex is going to happen. Once the female gets pregnant, she will begin to drop eggs. There is no mass or nest, they just drop them in their general vicinity. If you have completely sand for ground covering, and you dampen a patch first, they will be more inclined to lay their eggs there, due to the moistness.
You will know when the eggs are about to hatch, because they will turn a slightly reddish color a few days before. It generally takes about three weeks from egg laying to hatching.
Ok, a bunch of nymphs just hatched! What do I do?
If you see a bunch of nymphs start roaming the tank, collect them and put them into a small Styrofoam cup, or any other small drinking glass. Make sure it has a tight fitting lid, and what you’re going to want to do is put a small strip of paper towel, or toilet paper, from the bottom of the cup, up to over the edge. Make sure it stays moist with water to keep up the humidity, spraying it once a day with fresh water. You need to feed the nymphs fruit flies once a day, making sure there are always live ones for them to eat. You should continue to feed them fruit flies and pinhead crickets until they reach adulthood. After they reach the third molting, you can put them in the tank with the adults, and they won’t be eaten. Congratulations, you are now on your way to breeding your very own new colony.
Hopefully you find this information helpful in understanding, caring for, and raising your assassin bug, or intriguing enough for you to consider purchasing one.
And my friend at work, collector of all creatures exotic and often dangerous.
Bitriot did an excellent job above of providing general information on these wonderful insects, this particular addition is more focused on owning and caring for these insects. Just giving credit where credit is due.