Here’s a colorful bug Kieran and I have a long familiarity with. Years ago, under an old railroad tie lying in the grass in Alhambra Valley in Briones, we found one. Disregarding the obvious warning of the red and black coloration (in nature this usually means “Don’t touch!”), I picked it up. Using its sharp, piercing beak, it bit me, and it felt like I had picked up a burning ember in my palm.

This bug — another of the same colorful species — which we found recently in the same area, is an assassin bug — the name should be a warning, just like the colors! In the genus Apiomerus, it ambushes other insects on flowers and plants, grasping them in its hairy front legs and piercing their arthropod armor with that sharp beak. Some of them inject strong venom during the bite, which probably accounts for the exceptional pain I felt!

Since then, we’ve learned not to touch assassin bugs with our bare hands. They are true bugs, in the family Reduviidae, which also includes so-called “kissing bugs” and one we have yet to meet — the Western Bloodsucking Conenose (Triatoma protracta). All members of the family are famous for biting painfully.

Assassin bug 1

Apiomerus species

An assassin bug in the genus Apiomerus. The red colors are a warning to predators, and the sticky hairs help it grab and hold prey.

Apiomerus species, beak detail

The assassin bug has a sharp beak used to pierce the arthropod armor of the insects it attacks. It also serves to pierce the skin of anyone foolish enough to pick it up!

Apiomerus species, wing detail

Assassin bugs are true bugs, as evidenced by the X pattern of their wings on their abdomens.

Apiomerus species, front leg detail

The sticky hairs on the assassin bug’s legs help it catch and hold prey. Some species also have sticky hairs all over their body, which pick up bits of dirt and pollen to camouflage them as they wait in ambush on flowers.

Apiomerus species, sketch

A good way to get to know an insect is to sketch it.

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