Thursday, June 25, 2009

Masked Hunters in the House

My 16-year-old son spotted an interesting insect in our home last week. Actually the cats spotted it as they are always on the prowl for a miller moth, which, if a moth manages to get inside, they are doomed along with all of the items sitting on any counter.

Anyway, at first glance I thought it some form of beetle and grabbed it to show my boys. This is my typical action while trying to ease the fears of my entomophobic teenager. On closer observation, I noted that it was not a beetle and at that single instany, it stabbed me fairly deeply with a surprising level of pain. Needless to say, that poor creature met a quick demise on the bottom of my shoe.

Not being an entomologist and not knowing many of the insects outside of what we find in greenhouses, I decided to determine exactly what we had found in the house. Of course, my boys were convinced that I was going to die. They watch entirely too many science fiction movies.

Just prior to retiring our uninvited guest, I did make a quick guess that what we had was a type of assassin bug, which is of the order Hemiptera (true bugs) and the family Reduviidae (Assassin Bugs). These carnivorous bugs use their long rostrum to inject lethal saliva that liquefies the internal organs of their prey and then they draw out yummy juices. In many parts of the world, a species known as masked hunters may feed on cockroaches and/or bedbugs and are raised as pets or for insect control. Some of these species are haematophagous (they feed on blood) such Triatoma spp. They are known as kissing bugs and have a habit of biting people on their lips and eyelids while sleeping. Species found in Central and South America vector Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis). After telling this to my boys, they were ready to carry me to the emergency room (now I WAS afraid, my 16-year old does not even have his learner's permit).

So what bit me? After consultation with Dr. Frank Peairs and Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, Extension Entomologists at Colorado State University, we determined that what bit me was a Western Masked Hunter, Reduvius personatus. They are valuable members of our environment and gardens by hunting down and consuming many plant pests.

Photo by Joseph Berger

Reduvius personatus (Linnaeus) Adult
Photo by Joseph Berger,

Photo by Whitney Cranshaw

Reduvius personatus (Linnaeus)
Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,

Why was this bug in my house? The door was open. Are these bugs dangerous? Only to other arthropods, the clumsy, and me. Do they make good house guests? Not really and we certainly do not have any cockroaches at my house for them to feed. Are they good for the garden? Absolutely!! They may appear to be slow and non-aggressive, but they love to eat those that love to eat our favorite plants. Back off on your pesticides to encourage more predatory insects and mites.

Now back to my original intent, which was to show my boys more about our world by catching and observing creatures that we discover around our house. I had hoped to reduce my son’s entomophobic fears. This time I obviously failed and he gave me a strong, “I told you not to touch it!” Will I do it again? Of course, after all I am a professor and the son of a professor (I learned to roll my eyes a long time ago). Have I done it before? Yep, and to prove it, I have scars on my ear from a mother mockingbird defending her nest in Mississippi after realizing that her broken wing trick was not working (the neighbor kids whom I was trying to teach never returned to my yard).



Anonymous said...

It's nice to finally be able to identify these creatures. I've found dozens of them in my Fort Collins basement apartment over the last couple of years. I was bit by one when I was sleeping and it was quite painful. Sometimes they crawl around, other times they fly. They are loud when they do fly and it's usually at night. Does anyone know if they are coming in from the outside or do they live inside and what can I do to keep them out of my bed? Thanks

maryannad said...

They originally came from Europe and can live indoors and outdoors.