Assassin bugs (family Reduviidae) are predatory insects that are of great benefit to gardeners. They are proficient at capturing and feeding on a wide variety of prey including other bugs, bees, flies, and caterpillars. The assassin bug uses its sharp mouthparts to quickly stab and paralyze prey. It then proceeds to suck out the body fluids like a soda straw, leaving behind an empty shell of what was once life. An assassin bug bite produces intense, localized pain and, eventually, a small patch of dead tissue.
Most species of assassin bugs are gray to black or brownish in color, though some are brightly colored. Zelus is a common genus with several species in Texas. The milkweed assassin bug, Zelus longipes, is the most distinctive species. Zelus bugs have been known to invade homes during fall and winter.
Types of assassin bugs
Ambush bugs are a type of assassin bug that lie in wait for their prey on flowers. Some of these species are colored to blend in perfectly with their flower hiding places.
The wheel bug is the largest of the 150 or so species of assassin bugs known from North America. Adult wheel bugs are gray and approximately 3 cm (1 ¼ inch) long. Its name comes from the distinctive, cog-like crest arising from the top of the thorax, or middle section, of the wheel bug’s body (see photo). Wheel bugs will attack larger insects like grasshoppers and larger caterpillars.
Although most assassin bugs are highly beneficial, the cone-nosed bug, or kissing bug, is parasitic on humans and other mammals. A cone-nosed bug has an elongated head but lacks the crest and orange markings that the wheel bugs have.
Bites from wheel bugs
Assassin bug bites are some of the most painful bug bites out there, but they are usually relatively harmless. They can cause great pain, but they generally don’t cause more trouble than that. Assassin bugs carry bacteria in their mouths which can be transferred into the wound when they bite. If you want to deal with an assassin bug bite on your own, immediately wash the bitten area using soap and water. Oral analgesics, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, may be useful to reduce the pain. Treatment by a physician is not usually needed, though Caladryl or topical corticosteroids may help reduce swelling or itching at the site of the bite. Without treatment, a severe allergic reaction can be life-threatening. It may involve generalized swelling and itching or difficulty breathing. If the person has anaphylactic reaction symptoms such as these, seek medical attention immediately even if it’s not clear that there was an insect bite or sting involved at all.
As you can see, treatment for assassin bug bites can normally be done at home. As painful as these bites can be, they shouldn’t be too much of a problem for you to deal with by yourself. But if you suspect that you have been bitten by a kissing bug, seek medical attention right away.