Assassin Bugs Use Bait And Camouflage To Lure Unsuspecting Termites To Their Deaths
Insects are constantly tending to their own survival during their short lives. Some insects are naturally endowed with more effective survival methods than others. No matter how well a particular insect species is protected from predators, no type of insect can afford to relax within such a hostile environment. This is especially true for termites. Termite predators are prevalent in most regions where termites can be found. There exists several different ant species that regularly declare war on termite colonies. Unfortunately for termites, ants normally win. Obviously, ants are relatively small creatures, so how would termites hold up against larger forms of insect prey? The answer is just as you would expect–not well. When considering all the different types of bugs that prey on termites, assassin bugs would have to be the most feared among termites. Since termites are elusive creatures, it is rare to find them defending their colonies against enemy incursions in the wild. Luckily, Dr. Elizabeth McMahon, a University of North Carolina biology professor, managed to observe a termite colony being attacked by a single assassin bug. What amazed Dr. McMahon was the assassin bugs use of bait and camouflage to lure its termite prey into certain death.
While conducting field research in the Costa Rican rainforests, Dr. McMahon noticed several termites venturing out of their nests for food. Strangely, she also noticed that a part of the termite nest had been moving. She quickly realized that this moving object was actually an assassin bug that glued fragments of a termite nest to its back in order to invade a termite nest unseen. Once the assassin bug reached the nest entrance it impaled an emerging worker termite with its mouthparts before sucking out all of the termites innards. However, the assassin bug was still hungry, so it used the termite corpse as bait to lure more termites toward the entrance of the nest. The assassin bug then killed the next worker termite and repeated the process until the assassin bug had consumed the innards of thirty one individual termites. These termites continued to move to the entrance due to their habit of consuming fellow colony members after they die. Termites need to consume dead colony members for the nutrition that they offer. The assassin bug’s camouflage was the perfect choice, as the blind worker termites assume that this camoflauge is just a part of the nest that had fallen apart. The worker termites never expect an assassin bug to be hiding behind pieces of their nesting shell. Dr. McMahon was the first person to document this predatory behavior, and she caught it on tape. The assassin bug’s seemingly intelligent baiting method remains one of the most sophisticated predatory behaviors ever to observed in insects.
Do you think that an assassin bug’s uniquely effective predatory behavior is a sign of intelligence in an insect, or is it a matter of instinct?