Ambush Bugs

(Hemiptera spp.)



An amazing hunter in the insect world. The Ambush Bugs are one of the most fascinating to observe of all predatory bugs in this order.

This amazing creature is well known for its ability to hide itself among a beautiful bunch of flowers, calmly waiting for another insect to appear.

Aptly named for its unique talent, this bug will snatch the prey up with its knife like pincers and feast on all but its outer shell.

These small bugs are easily observed during the fall months of the year since they are known to set up their habitat among most fall flowers.

Ambush Bug

The body of the Ambush bug is rather odd in shape, with a tiny waist area separating a much larger upper and slightly larger lower body. This tiny insect is around a half inch in length and has a variation of colors on its different body parts.

In some species the legs and pincers are bright yellow, as are the outer portions of the wings.

The body of most species is a dark brown with mottled areas of black and an occasional yellow spot. The antennas are long and brownish yellows at the head moving out to a darker brown on the ends. Much like the antenna the eyes are large with a brownish yellow coloration.

Since these bugs are such an amazing hunters, they are considered to be one of the more beneficial insects since it feeds often on wasp and flies. Even with its interesting coloration, these bugs do not just restrict its habitat to yellow flowers. This creature has a knack for camouflaging its body so that it remains almost completely undetectable on any color of flower.

Of course the diet does not just consist of flies and wasp. This predatory creature is well known for eating butterflies, bees or most other soft-shelled insects that come within its reach.

It is interesting to note that the Ambush bug does not discriminate in size when choosing its victim since it is common to see this insect feasting on other insects such as the white butterfly which is much larger in size.

Ambush Bug

Once the bug has trapped its victim with its large blade like pincers it will immediately inject a poisonous saliva-like substance into the body.

This substance will paralyze the victim and cause the breakdown of its internal tissues eventually causing its death.

While this breakdown process occurs the bug patiently waits and then stabs the lifeless body
with its short beak, sucking out the juices.

One of the best ways to find this tiny ambush creature is to look around the base of flowering plants for the discarded shells of other insects such as butterflies, bees, wasp and flies.

When you discover this small predator you also may be fortunate enough to see a crab spider which is often found sharing the ambush bugs habitat. This tiny creature is yellowish white in color and moves sideways among the flower petals.

The Ambush bug is found in the Phymatidae family that has close to 200 species living in moderate temperature areas of the United States and Asia.

During the mating season the smaller males are commonly seen riding around on the backs of the larger females of their species while the females continue to feed. Amazingly, this behavior is only part of the courting ritual since the Ambush bugs mate while side by side.

The female will deposit her eggs among the leaves or on the stems of her flowering habitat.

As the colder months move in both the male and female of the species will die leaving the eggs unattended through the winter.

The minute Ambush nymphs that are about the size of a gnat will emerge during the following spring.

They immediately begin preying on insects that are much larger as their body goes through five different molts.

In the late summer the adults emerge to feed, mate and produce the next generation.

Ambush Bug

Colored in shades of yellow or cream with darker markings, the bugs are well-concealed among the buds and blossoms of a variety of flora.

Often the only indication of an ambush bug’s presence is its prey: another insect posed motionless in an awkward position among the petals of a flower.

Ambush bugs seize their
prey with amazing speed and strength. The entire adult insect is only about ten millimeters in length, but what they lack in size they make up for in muscle power. Their front legs are “raptorial,” heavily modified like a praying mantis for grabbing and holding a victim.

The femur is heavy and almost club-like, while the tibia is blade-like. The two leg segments fold against each other like a jack-knife against its handle.

The attack is so forceful as to be an audible “snap.” Sometimes the bug literally bites off more than it can chew.

While the bug’s grip is so strong that it can often subdue a victim with only one front leg, it is the bug’s bite that ultimately dooms its prey.

Beak-like mouthparts deliver saliva containing paralytic compounds and enzymes that pre-digest the meal from the inside out. The predator bug then sucks up the liquefied contents, leaving the prey insect as an empty exoskeleton.

Female Ambush Bugs are larger and heavier than the males, and able to snatch larger prey items. This fact has not been lost on the smaller sex, and males will ride piggy-back atop females, sharing in the female’s successful kills.

Ambush Bug

Such couples may or may not end up as a mating pair, and given the male gender’s freeloading tendencies, it seems a wonder they reproduce at all.

It is not just another bug that might share in the spoils, though. Tiny flies of the family Machiidae will congregate like vultures at the scene of the crime, lapping up any tasty liquids oozing from the deceased.

Our most common and widespread North American Ambush Bugs are in the genus Phymata, of which there are at least seventeen species. Look (carefully) on almost any flower at this time of year and you may be surprised to find one of them lurking there.

Ambush Bugs and Other Beneficial Insects

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