Assassins in The Springtime
The ‘white-eyed assassin’ sounds like a character you’d encounter in a cloak-and-dagger TV drama or video game. In actuality, it’s one of our resident bugs in Pacific Science Center’s Living Exhibits. The name is derived from the white eyespots on the insect’s wings. As for the moniker ‘assassin,’ Platymeris biguttatus is an ambush predator, latching on to crickets and cockroaches with astonishing reflexes. The unlucky insects on the menu are pierced with an elongated, beak-like mouthpiece and injected with saliva to pre-digest the tissue. Like every “true bug,” the white-eyed assassin will then suck the meal back through its mouthpiece like a straw. If that’s not intense enough, they also possess a defense mechanism that allows them to shoot venom into predators’ eyes, causing pain and temporary blindness. You do not want to be hit by this “smooth criminal.”
Since PacSci is exploring reproduction in our Living Exhibits, let’s uncover the reproductive habits of this particular species. Native to Southwest Africa, assassin bugs usually become active in late March or early April. Females prefer to lay their eggs in moderately damp ground; these eventually hatch in late spring or early summer. If you visit their enclosure in front of the Tropical Butterfly House, you will see a cluster of seed-like specks in one corner—the female assassin’s eggs. The eggs themselves suit the white-eyed assassin bug’s glossy aesthetic: a shiny black orb with a white cap on one end, much like the eyespots they will develop as adults. This cap serves as an escape hatch for the nymph after it has finished growing.
The tiny, new nymphs are bright red and wingless, but they otherwise resemble the adults. To overcome the disadvantage of their small size, nymphs will hunt and eat together, while adults feed alone. White-eyed assassin bugs are hemimetabolous. This means that, like stick insects and mantises, they undergo three life stages: egg, nymph, and adult. As they grow and progress through these stages, they shed and replace their skin. Want to find out more? Visit PacSci to see our debonair white-eyed assassin bugs in all three stages this spring!