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How Stealthy Are Assassin Bugs?

Camouflage is not unusual in nature. Some animals change color and shape to confuse their enemies, while some are able to hide with crafty disguises. Acanthaspis petax is a species of assassin bug common in East Africa and Malaysia. These insects attack their victims -- usually ants -- with a paralysis-inducing saliva and then suck out the innards of their prey. But they don’t stop there. They’ll typically turn the empty exoskeletons -- as many as 20 at a time -- into a sticky cloak that discourages attacks from predators. Some scientists think that this coat of ant corpses provides olfactory camouflage, while others think it works as a visual distraction that confuses enemies.

Watch out for the proboscis:

  • A 2007 study in New Zealand found that jumping spiders attacked "unadorned" assassin bugs about 10 times more often than those wearing a mound of dead ants.
  • The researchers theorized that Acanthaspis petax may rely on the spiders’ reluctance to attack ants. Ants have a tendency to swarm and secrete debilitating chemicals, so spiders typically avoid hunting them.
  • Even for humans, large assassin bugs should be treated with caution. A stab from the proboscis can be painful.
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