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The Spider Assassin

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Here’s a Belizean bug that doesn’t look like much:

Reduviidae: Emesinae (Belize)

I’m serious. In the field the insect looked like so little I thought it merely debris in a disorganized spider’s web. I didn’t see the faint outline of a young assassin bug until the debris shuddered, ever so slightly.

The dramatic contrast of the above image is only because I’ve removed the animal and its clever camouflage from its favored habitat. Such transplants, for better or worse, are a common trick of insect photographers to bring out the glamour of insects whose primary defense is hiding in plain sight. The insect is considerably less obvious in situ:

An emesine assassin bug lurks at the edge of a spider's web (Belize)

Closer in we can see the spider's web .

What’s this little predator doing in the web of another predator? Presumably, hunting. Some emesines, especially those in the genus Stenolemus, are spider specialists. While I can’t say much about the species pictured here, at least some spider assassins lure in their prey by mimicking the movement of trapped insects. When the spider approaches… Bam!

(video source: Assassin bug uses aggressive mimicry to lure spider prey, Anne E. Wignall and Phillip W. Taylor, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2010, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.2060 )

Alex Wild About the Author: Alex Wild is Curator of Entomology at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studies the evolutionary history of ants. In 2003 he founded a photography business as an aesthetic complement to his scientific work, and his natural history photographs appear in numerous museums, books and media outlets. Follow on Twitter @myrmecos.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Sean McCann 4:27 pm 02/13/2013

    Wow! That is sneaky! I don’t know whether I should show my spider gal or not….

    Link to this

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