Assassins in the garden
by Helen Dowsett

There were only a limited number of insects brought into the office clinic for identification and problem solutions this year until the middle of September, and then we were inundated with insect problems! This month has been a very interesting one, as we had two specimens brought to the office clinic that I have never seen before in my 13 years of working with insects.

The first one had been identified as a Bee Assassin. The Bee Assassin is a True Bug, 12-15mm long (do not roll your eyes, it's not that hard. Remember: 10mm = just less than ½" and 20mm = ¾". You need to know this as all insect picture books and literature use the metric system for sizing). Bee Assassins are a beautiful bug, dark and light brown wings, and a body with yellowish or red with black-brown markings. ... The Bee Assassin frequents meadow, field and gardens, pounces on Honeybees and other pollinators, holds the captive in his powerful legs, thrusts his cutting beak into the victims back, injects a paralyzing digestive agent and then sucks out the body juices., according to the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. Sounds horrible! As if our bees do not have enough problems!

The Bee Assassin identification plagued me, even though it had been previously identified by a Master Gardener more adept than me. The markings on the edges of the abdomen were exactly like the picture shown me in the Audubon Field Guide, but the photo only showed a semi-frontal view against foliage. I lay awake one night and thought, 'we need to identify every aspect of tht insect', his color was difficult to determine since he had been brought to us in alcohol (which bleaches the color from specimens), he had the 4-segmented antennae - everything was right EXCEPT that he had leaf-like appendages on the rear legs! He was a Leaf-footed Plant Bug! Both are members of the order Hemiptera (True Bugs) but from very different families. All of which goes to show how careful one must be to check EVERY identifiable point of the insects body structure and not be too ready to jump to a conclusion as to his identity

The other insect of particular interest was a Tiger Beetle larvae. The Audubon Guide describes the larvae (no picture) as ...S-shaped and having vertical burrows in dry soil, seizing prey in their strong jaws while anchoring themselves with hooks located on the abdomen.

A client from Fox Island found them under and between his house shakes and the insulation when doing some building repair. The specimens had been in a closed container in the office for two days before I got to them and they were still alive, especially active under the heat of the microscope. Tough little guys, they are considered beneficial. Their bodies are cream colored with light brown markings.

I took several cartons of insects home to freeze and prepare of our office Insect Collection, but those two Tiger Beetle larvae I released to a secluded spot under an ornamental maple in my garden.

Resources

Galveston County Master Gardeners article on Bee Assassins


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