Amazing Assassins

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

to three-fourths of an inch long, but Emesaya brevipennis is a giant at an inch and a half. All can be found skulking around barns and other old buildings. Some species lurk at the edge of spider webs, and may even enter the snares to steal the spiders' prey.

When darkness falls, turn on your porchlight. You will be introduced to the night shift, as well as some wheel bugs putting in overtime. The dinner crowd may include Narvesus carolinensis, a light brown creature with a single black spot on its back. Stenopoda cinerea is a large, leggy, straw-colored species. The big, stocky Microtomus purcis is a spectacular combination of black, white, and red. Rasahus hamatus, one of the "corsairs," can inflict an excruciating bite if provoked. Nearly an inch long, it is glossy brown with black markings and has prominent pale spots on its black wing membrane.

Among the more abundant visitors are "kissing bugs," a name applied to at least three Missouri species, including Melanolestes picipes. Known correctly as the black corsair, this bug is uniformly black and about three-fourths of an inch long. A relative, M. abdominalis, is black with red trim.

Females of both types are often wingless and run rapidly over the ground, hiding under stones and boards by day. Males fly well and sometimes alight on people.

Resembling little ankle weights are the fossa spongiosa, special pads that help the bug grip prey and climb slick surfaces. A population boom of the black corsair caused the "Kissing Bug Scare of 1899" in the northeast U.S. Bugs invaded houses and bit residents who slapped or crushed them.

An even stranger kissing bug is the masked hunter, Reduvius personatus. Native to Europe and north Africa, it was accidentally introduced to New York City and has since spread across much of North America. It is not common, but can stray indoors where it feeds on bed bugs, carpet beetles, flies and other insects.

The adults are winged, dark brown or black, and an inch long. Females drop eggs singly, in dusty corners and other undisturbed spots. The larvae are covered with sticky hairs, and they conceal themselves in lint, dust and other debris.

Outdoors, masked hunters are often associated with cliff swallow colonies, feeding on swallow bugs, relatives of bed bugs. People bitten by masked hunters experience nearly intolerable pain and swelling, and, in the worst cases,

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