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What are the assassin bugs in Georgia?

What are the assassin bugs in Georgia?

Assassin bugs, also known as kissing bugs, are a group of insects that can be found throughout the state of Georgia. There are over 130 species of assassin bugs in the United States, with at least 20 species found in Georgia. Assassin bugs get their name from their unique hunting technique, in which they ambush and “assassinate” their prey. They are equipped with piercing, sucking mouthparts that allow them to inject paralyzing venom into their victims. While most species of assassin bugs are beneficial predators that feed on garden pests, a few species can bite humans and transmit diseases. In this article, we will explore the different types of assassin bugs found in Georgia, what they look like, where they can be found, and how to identify the species that may pose a risk to human health.

Physical Characteristics

Most assassin bugs share some common physical features that help distinguish them from other insects:

– Elongated head with a distinct neck/head region behind the eyes
– Curved, flattened proboscis (piercing mouthpart) averaging half the body length
– Raptorial front legs designed for grasping prey
– Wings with reduced venation giving them a membranous appearance

Assassin bugs range in size from just 5-10 mm to over 40 mm. They exhibit a wide variety of colors and patterns. Cryptic species tend to be black, brown or grey and blend in with bark and soil. More conspicuous species can be brightly colored with patches of red, orange, yellow or white.

All assassin bugs go through simple metamorphosis with egg, nymph, and adult stages. Nymphs resemble the adult form but are smaller and wingless.

Common Assassin Bug Families in Georgia

There are four main families of assassin bugs found in Georgia:

Family Description
Reduviidae This is the largest family, with over 130 species in Georgia. They have long, narrow bodies and long legs for ambushing prey.
Phymatidae Also called ambush bugs, these assassin bugs lie in wait on flowers to ambush pollinators. They are often vividly colored.
Nabidae Damsel bugs in this family have lacey wings and long legs. They are important predators in gardens.
Salyavatidae Minute pirate bugs are tiny (2-5 mm) black and white bugs. Despite their small size, they are voracious predators.

Some of the most common assassin bug species within these families found in Georgia are giant wheel bugs, masked hunters, thread-legged bugs, damsel bugs, and minute pirate bugs.

Habitats and Prey

Assassin bugs occupy a wide range of habitats in Georgia. Species can be found in forests, grasslands, agricultural fields, gardens, and human dwellings. Some are generalist predators, while others specialize in certain habitat types or prey.

Most assassin bugs are ambush predators that lie in wait for prey to come near. Prey is then grasped with the front legs and stabbed with the rostrum to inject paralyzing saliva. Prey includes:

– Other insects and arthropods
– Small spiders, scorpions, centipedes
– Caterpillars, grubs, and agricultural pests
– Flies, mosquitoes, roaches
– Bees, wasps, butterflies

Larger wheel bug species can even prey on beetles, cicadas, tree crickets, and caterpillars. Minute pirate bugs feed on small eggs and larvae.

Assassin bugs are an important part of the garden ecosystem, providing natural pest control of many insect pests.

Are Assassin Bugs Harmful to Humans?

Most species of assassin bugs are not harmful to humans and do not bite. There are, however, two species in Georgia that can pose a risk:

Species Description
Triatoma sanguisuga Also called the kissing bug. Can transmit Chagas disease to humans.
Arilus cristatus The wheel bug. Has a very painful defensive bite but does not transmit disease.

Kissing Bugs

Kissing bugs get their name because they often bite humans on the face or lips while people sleep. The bite is usually not felt. Kissing bugs can transmit a parasitic disease called Chagas disease. This disease is rare in the U.S. but more common in Central and South America.

Kissing bugs are nocturnal and live in habitats associated with their hosts including dog kennels, under cement, rock piles, chicken coops, and rodent nests. They have a distinctive “cone nose” shape. Nymphs and adults both drink blood.

Wheel Bugs

Wheel bugs in Georgia can deliver an extremely painful bite in defense, though they do not transmit any diseases. The bite has been described as worse than most stings or bites. Wheel bugs get their name from their distinctive wheel or cog-like shape. They are one of the largest assassin bugs in Georgia, growing over an inch long. They prey on a wide variety of garden pests.

Avoiding Assassin Bugs

To avoid painful bites from assassin bugs like wheel bugs:

– Inspect children’s play areas thoroughly for large assassin bugs before letting them play.

– Wear gloves and long sleeves when moving piles of wood or rock.

– Use caution when handling garden plants or produce where assassin bugs may live.

– Seal cracks, holes, and openings in living areas that could allow entry.

– Keep pet food bowls indoors to avoid attracting kissing bugs.

– Remove trash, woodpiles, and other clutter far from the home’s perimeter.

– Apply insecticides carefully to infested areas or nesting sites.

In summary, assassin bugs are diverse group of predatory insects that play an important role in controlling garden and agricultural pests in Georgia. The vast majority of species are harmless to humans. But knowing how to identify and avoid the one or two species like kissing bugs and wheel bugs that can bite defensively is important. With proper precautions, assassin bugs can be observed and appreciated for their fascinating hunting behaviors.


Assassin bugs are stealthy predators equipped with piercing, sucking mouthparts to stab and paralyze their prey. Over 130 species are found in Georgia, with most being beneficial predators that feed on other insects. A few select species can deliver painful defensive bites to humans or spread disease, like the wheel bug and kissing bugs. Avoiding contact with these species and taking precautions like gloves and insecticides can allow us to safely enjoy these interesting insects in Georgia gardens and landscapes. With increased awareness and responsible actions, assassin bugs need not be assassins, but rather allies in our backyards.