“Hey, come look at this.”

“I’m getting ready to jump in the shower. Can’t it wait?”

“No, you need to see this now.”

Run downstairs.

“What’s up?”

“There’s a tiny baby assassin bug in the bathroom.”

“You called me downstairs to see an assassin bug.”

“Yes.”

“In our house.”

“Yes.”

“What on earth made you think I ‘need’ to see ANY kind of bug inside our house?”

“Assassin bugs are a sign of a healthy garden.”

“The garden is OUTSIDE.”

“But it’s a baby!”

“Also, it’s NOVEMBER.”

“That’s probably why it’s inside.”

“It’s a baby ASSASSIN BUG.”

“But it’s really cute.”

“Is it?”

“Yes, look here.”

Pause.

“It’s gone.”

“Awesome. If you find it could you perhaps help it back outside?”

“Maybe it’s too cold for it outside.”

“I’ll bet the healthy garden is warm.”

Go back upstairs.

“Hon? Could you come here? I need your help.”

“Do you have something against me showering?”

Assassin bug, Blue Steel edition

Tiny assassin bug before (or possibly after) surgery.

“No, but this is important. I think I severely injured the little bug.”

Go back downstairs.

“See, I found it again and put it in this container and took it outside to release it. Only I tried to release it over the door and I accidentally put it right into a spiderweb.”

Silence.

“Then I managed to free it and moved it to the rose bush, which seems like a very friendly place for a baby bug, only I sort of put it into a spiderweb there, too. Now it’s all wrapped up in web.”

Additional silence.

“So I need you to help it.”

“You need me to help it.”

“Yes.”

Even more silence with extra silence on top.

“How on earth am I supposed to help it?”

“I don’t know. It can’t move, though, because its legs are stuck together with spiderweb.”

“You want me to remove SPIDERWEB – intended to capture bugs – from a tiny bug with legs so small I can barely see them?”

“Yes.”

“An assassin bug.”

“A BABY assassin bug.”

“Are you even listening to yourself?”

insectsurgeon

“Damnit, Jim, I’m a writer not a bug surgeon.”

“I’ve already tried to help it twice and look where it is.”

Glance at tiny bug looking enormously pathetic in a plastic container.

Sigh.

“Fine. I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?”

“I need to get toothpicks.”

“Toothpicks?”

“Look, if you are going to question my methodology you can do it yourself.”

Which is how I ended up performing toothpick-based spiderweb-removal surgery on a baby assassin bug on our patio table one sunny afternoon last autumn.


###

(Not the guy from Survivor.)

Nice proboscis!

I don’t mean to brag, but I have a history with assassin bugs.

The first one I ever saw was at a winery in northern Maryland. I’d never even heard of an assassin bug before that, but this bug came to hang out with us, which was totally fine until I noticed the GINORMOUS MANDIBLES OF DOOM. That’s when the phones came out as we frantically tried to identify it.

“Maybe it’s a beetle?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Did you SEE the MANDIBLES?”

“It’s actually a proboscis.”

“Isn’t he the host of Survivor?”

I’ll be the first to admit my eyesight isn’t the best. I like to think it helps me live a more relaxed life because I don’t notice things like proboscises until it’s far too late to do anything about them.

Anyway, it turned out to be a wheel bug, which is a type of assassin bug.

Based on the in-depth research I conducted (thanks, Google!), here’s what you need to know:

  • It’s the largest terrestrial “true bug” in North America, and can grow up to an inch and a half in length.
  • Which makes me wonder if there are aquatic “false bugs,” but whatever.
  • It kills by INJECTING ITS BEAK INTO ITS PREY, squirting out some crazy enzymes that paralyze AND THEN DISSOLVE THE INSIDES of the unfortunate victim, which the bug then slurps back up THROUGH ITS PROBOSCIS.
  • Its bite is VERY PAINFUL and takes a long time to heal.
  • Did you read the part about STABBING ITS PREY WITH ITS PROBOSCIS?
  • It is noted to be “very vicious” in the wild, a statement that jumped out at me because are there domesticated assassin bugs?

Things I like about assassin bugs:

  • They are very shy (except, one supposes, when they are being “very vicious” and injecting things with their beak).
  • Their flight is categorized as “clumsy” and “noisy.” This is notable first because those words are so often used to describe the way I move. Second, I like insects that go out of their way to warn you that they’re approaching. Third, “erratic” flight means they probably can’t intentionally target anything (and by “anything” I mean “me”).
  • They are slow. Bugs I can outrun? Best. Bugs. EVER.
  • They have a rather badass spiny wheel-looking thing on their back.
  • They really do indicate a healthy garden, which is pretty interesting considering the only things we’ve managed to successfully grow are kale, mint and roughly seventeen thousand tons of parsley.

They are called assassin bugs because they kill and eat other bugs.

Or so they say.

Now I’m not trying to get all paranoid, here, but for a shy insect they tend to find me A LOT. First at the winery, next at a polling place on election day. I was standing there speaking with a friend when one lurched out of the sky and landed right on my shirt.

vindication

It speaks volumes that I had to document this.

It didn’t hang out long enough to get a photo (it was probably on a contract), but I saved this account of the event related by a friend of mine for everyone who cannot IMAGINE me NOT flailing in horror, inviting certain death by proboscis and enzymes and slurping: “When I picked up [daughter] a crazy stink bug/preying mantis hybrid dropped on Mickey’s shoulder. Mickey did not flail, remained calm and did not injure herself or anyone in dislodging said bug. Some may doubt this story, but when I last saw Mickey, she was upright & contemplating arm socks.”

(I left the arm sock comment in there to prove I was the Mickey being referenced in the post. You’re welcome.)

Then, just last week ANOTHER one turned up in our alleged garden:

Juvenile assassin bug, Protector of Kale

“Oh, hey, look! A juvenile assassin bug!”

“How do you even FIND these things?”

“Are you going to take a picture?”

“Yes, I’ll take a picture.”

“Don’t get so close, you’re freaking it out.”

“It’s not like I have a telephoto lens on this old mobile.”

“I’m just saying, you’re making it angry.”

“HOW CAN YOU EVEN TELL?!”

###

Last fall’s impromptu bug surgery was successful. I think.

I did my best to gently remove as much spiderweb as I could from the tiny bug. All of its legs were stuck together at first, and I’m pretty sure I freed most of them. I’m almost certain I didn’t accidentally remove one, so that’s nice.

Once I finished, I gave it a pep talk and found it a nice, safe, spiderweb-free spot and let it go. I made sure the dogs didn’t accidentally step on it. Or eat it. Or poke it in the proboscis.

Were other assassin bugs watching me the whole time?

Do they know I saved the tiny bug, or do they think I was torturing him?

Am I under the protection of the Local Guild of Assassin Bugs, or am I under surveillance?

Are they here to support me, or are they biding their time before they go all John Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank?

Who can say?

Either way, at least I’ll hear them coming.

And I’ll have a solid chance of outrunning them.

###

All photos mine except for the really great one where you can actually SEE the wheel bug. That one’s from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension