Assassin Bug, What Do You Mean You’ve Never Seen The Jackal?

A study from Sydney’s Macquarie University has examined the predatory behaviour of the assassin bug (Stenolemus bituberus), describing for the first time the two distinct attack methods used by this araneophagic (spider-eating) insect. Putting the bugs in contact with five species of web-building spiders, Anne Wignall observed the assassin bugs to use either “stalking” or “luring” tactics to hunt their prey in their webs.

When stalking, the assassin bugs will rely on stealth to reach their prey undetected, severing and stretching the silk threads of the web between itself and the spider, and approaching it with an irregular, bouncing locomotion. Exploiting periods of environmental disturbance (caused by wind, for example), together with the vibrations created by its cryptic stepping movements, the assassin bug creates a kind of “smokescreen” effect to mask its approach.

When luring, however, the assassin bug will manipulate the silk vibrations to deliberately reveal its location on the web and draw the spider to it, plucking the threads to emulate the twitching, panicked movements of ensnared prey for up to twenty minutes. “The spider thinks it’s getting a meal, but instead gets eaten itself,” says Wignall.

Prior to striking and killing the spider when in reach, the assassin bugs were observed to engage in unusual behaviour known as “prey tapping.” The assassin bug will tap its prey from above with its antennae to apparently reduce its ability to respond to the impending attack, Robert Jackson of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya likening its effect to that of hypnotism.

Now this is all very elaborate and apparently successful, but we all know spiders are not that stupid. Lord knows if one asked me to do something, I sure as hell wouldn’t refuse, so they’ve definitely got something there. Plus we all know spiders talk,* which could make life pretty difficult for those assassin bugs I’d imagine. Because you can’t be an assassin if your victims can see you and your wide-open bag of tricks coming, right?

So poor Assassin Bug would finally get an assignment, which is awesome because he’s just been sitting at home doing fuck-all for months because the pickings are slim when there are so many other assassin bugs around. It’s like, “Hey, so I heard an Achaearanea extridium moved in down town?”

“Yeah, Lindsay already picked him off last week.”

Motherfucker.”

He would manage to finish Mass Effect 2 in like 20 hours, sort his entire mp3 library by sub genre and bpm, plus read a bunch of chess endgame books he found under his bed, so it wouldn’t be a total loss, but having not eaten in months, he’ll have spent most of his unemployment either snapping at people on the street who asked him for the time (“Do I look like I can afford a watch? Jesus.”), or passed out in a hungry stupour.

But then his agent (or whatever the guy who organises these things is called) will call him up like, “The Pholcus phalangioides who moved into the Achaearanea extridium’s place…” and the Assassin Bug will be all,

“You serious?!”

“Just hang up.”

“Okay. Sorry.”

He’ll head to the Pholcus phalangioides’ web, knocking off a bystanding snail on the way because it looked at him funny, and then the caterpillar barista who accidentally burnt his coffee because it was the first one he’s been able to afford in forever and he was really looking forward to it. He’ll also kill the terrified kitchen-hand who will try to make him another one but can’t froth the milk properly because he only knows how to wash dishes because he dropped out of high school to be a musician, only to be kicked out of a really shit band after one rehursal because he didn’t know what a chord was.

Then at the Pholcus phalangioides’ web he’ll be plucking and stretching like mad for like ten minutes before Pholcus phalangioides will come over all, “Do you mind? I have to get up early tomorrow. Get the fuck off my web.”

The desperate Assassin Bug will rush over and start tapping him on the head all, “Oooooh…. Oooooh….!”

“Oh my God, Stop it. I’m going back to bed.”

“Oh. Okay. Sorry.”

And the Assassin Bug will look so pathetic that the Pholcus phalangioides will feel sorry for him and be like, “You’ve seen The Jackal, right?”

“The one with Bruce Willis?”

“Yeah.”

“No…?”

“Okay well anyway, there’s this scene with a boombox–”

“A boombox?”

“What.”

“Who the hell calls them boomboxes?”

“Do you want my advice or not?”

“Okay. Sorry.”

“Anyway, there’s this scene with a boombox…”

Then later that night the Pholcus phalangioides will be woken up again, this time by some excessively loud bad techno and he’ll stumble sleepily out of his curled-up dead leaf going, “Oh my god, Assassin Bug, you can’t use my own advice on me! What is the matter with you?”

The next morning the Assassin Bug’s agent (or whatever the guy who organises these things is called) will leave a message on his machine all like, “Why the fuck is that Pholcus phalangioides still alive? Why the fuck didn’t I use one of my other guys? You arsehole. Wait, what is all that racket? What did I tell you kids about raves on my front porch?! Oh, its you. I was just– Uggggh….”

* Which is why you should never kill one unless you want five more to come to their funeral.

Journal of Ethology Paper // New Scientist for the video that inexplicably won’t embed // Top picture from Jeffrey Friedl’s blog

– bec

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8 Comments

Filed under Insects, Science

8 responses to “Assassin Bug, What Do You Mean You’ve Never Seen The Jackal?

  1. Great post. I love assassin bugs, I usually see young ones.

    Here’s one:

  2. Priceless! I especially love that you’ve got an assassin bug called ‘Lindsay’ – that name just screams contract killer..

    Aside: Prof Jackson taught me when I was at Canterbury Uni. He’s as smart and as odd as you’d expect.

  3. Indeed. An assassin named Lindsay – terrific.

  4. Bec

    Aww you guys…

    FB – No way! I bet you have some stories!

  5. I figured about starting my blog too but I’m just too lazy so, I guess I’ll just have to preserve checking yours out.

  6. Pingback: Trust Me When I Say You’re Going to Need a Blow Torch and Some Rope, Amaurobius ferox Spiderlings. « Save Your Breath For Running Ponies

  7. This paragraph is really a fastidious one it helps new net visitors, who are wishing in favor of blogging.

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