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While the insects that we spot in and around our homes are often dismissed as unwanted nuisance pests that may inflict bites, stings or destructive structural infestations, there are many insect species that homeowners should be pleased to find within their yard. For example, assassin bugs maintain a presence within yards and gardens in order to feed on a variety of insect pests that are known for inflicting damage to garden plants. There exists well over 160 documented assassin bugs within the United States, several of which reside in Massachusetts. All assassin bugs possess a large fang-like mouthpart that protrudes from their head. This “fang” is used to stab insect prey repeatedly while also injecting toxic fluids that either kill or paralyze them. This toxic chemical also liquifies assassin bug prey, enabling the fierce insects to use their hollow fang as a sort of straw for sucking the insect’s remains into their mouthparts. As you can probably guess, assassin bugs can also use their fang to stab human skin repeatedly, leaving behind an intensely painful wound where a potentially dangerous toxin is injected into the bloodstream. Some assassin bug species are known for injecting a toxin that can lead to serious allergic symptoms, including anaphylactic shock. This is why gardeners should be careful to never handle any assassin bug species that they find within or near their home.

Some assassin bug species are more apt to stab humans than others, and some species are also more likely to enter homes than others, but most species prefer to spend all of their time outdoors near plants where a meal can be obtained easily. Assassin bugs prey on caterpillars, flies, aphids, cockroaches, leafhoppers and a variety of other insect pests, depending on the species. In Massachusetts, the spined assassin bug, the orange assassin bug, Pselliopus assassin bugs, the S. carinata assassin bug and several others have been known to inflict multiple painful wounds on humans, but the wheel bug species of assassin bugs is known for inflicting the most medically significant bites to humans. Several assassin bugs belonging to the Zelus genus have been found entering homes, and they are often spotted on decks and patios. Two Zelus assassin bug species, the milkweed assassin bug and the Z. luridus species, exist within Massachusetts. Bites from the wheel bug require immediate medical attention in cases where signs of anaphylactic shock become apparent. Such signs include swelling, itching, hives or difficulty breathing.

Have you ever encountered an assassin bug near your home?