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Lying In Wait

The ambush bug and its kin



There are about 200 species of insects in this part of the country that makes life on Earth very difficult for other insects: Ambush bugs. They have that very descriptive name because: a) They wait silently and unmoving for their prey to get close enough to grab them (literally), and, b) they blend in so perfectly with the place(s) they wait they are all but impossible to see.

For most people, an "insect" is a "bug." But that isn't really so. A "beetle" is NOT a "bug." A "dragonfly" is NOT a "bug," and neither is a grasshopper, ant lion, or tick. A "bug"—a "True Bug"—is a horse of another color.

To be classified as a "bug" an insect most often has a definable "x" pattern on its back, appears sort of flattened, and has mouth parts modified for sucking juices out of animals and plants.

True Bugs are placed in the order, Hemiptera, AKA "half-winged insects." There are around 50,000–80,000 species of them around Planet Earth, and they include cicadas, aphids, leafhoppers, shield bugs, and the like. They range in size from 0.04 of an inch (damnable aphids), to around 6 inches (the huge water bugs are a good-sized example). The common Milkweed Bug is a classic example of a true bug. The x is well defined, the shape of the animal is that of most true bugs and it cannot be confused with a grasshopper, beetle, butterfly, wasp, bee or spider.

The aggravating assassin bug (a close relative of the ambush bug) is another example of a true bug. It too has the definitive "x" pattern in its back, has mouth parts adapted for sucking juices out of animals—you and me included in that broad category.

And, like the ambush bug, they too wait in that quiet pose for deer, mouse, moose and/or you or me to walk past them close enough to snag our clothing or hair, and then quietly crawl into the right place to stab us with the sharp, hypodermic-type mouth piece and suck our blood—while doing so, inject us with an anticoagulant that sometime has some pretty nasty diseases in it.

For the curious, this is the best time of year to go out and find ambush bugs. Go out in the yard (or field) where the grass is up to your knees and walk through it slowly swinging the net side-to-side—flipping it as you go so everything that's there falls into the maw. I defy you to look inside the net without asking, "What in the heck is that?!

There will be things you have never seen. There will be animals and objects hopping, creeping, flying and hiding. Unless you have taken a course in entomology and arachnology you won't know most of what you're looking at, and if there's an ambush bug in the lot you won't recognize it either. Ahhh, but one of your kids will ask, "Hey, dad (or mom), what is that thing? It has legs, but it looks like a flower petal (or pebble, or piece of bark, or whatever)."

At that moment you will enter one of the most fascinating places on this beautiful old planet we all share; the world of arthropods, and what a grand time you'll have — I promise!

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