Insects may be small but many of them scare folks big-time – I’m looking at you, spiders. Though some bugs are indeed dangerous and have names to match, for others it’s a case of misleading advertising. Here are 10 such bugs whose bark is (usually) bigger than their bite.
Assassin bugs lie in wait for their prey, then ambush it much like James Bond on a secret mission. What follows is somewhat un-Bondish: the assassin bug spears its unfortunate victim with a wickedly curved beak, or rostrum, through which a potent flesh-dissolving enzyme is injected. Once the bug’s saliva has done its dastardly deed, the rostrum becomes a straw through which the prey’s liquified innards are slurped. Personally I’d rather have a martini… shaken, not stirred.
Most species of assassin bugs prey on other insects, which is nice considering their revolting way of feeding. I did say “most”, however, so stifle that sigh of relief. Some types of assassin bugs are haematophagous, meaning blood-suckers. The so-called “Kissing Bug” of the genus Triatoma is the most notorious of these, named for its habit of biting sleeping humans on their lips or eyes. If that’s not bad enough, their bites can spread a potentially fatal illness known as Chagas Disease.
These big-eyed beasties are built to kill, though thankfully they limit their deadly attention to other insects. Like assassin bugs, robber flies “prepare” their prey by stabbing it with their beaks, then injecting a potent combo of enzymes that both paralyzes and liquifies the victim from within.
(image via: J Cossey)
Robber flies have 5 eyes, though the huge, multi-faceted compound eyes are much more prominent than the 3 tiny simple eyes located between them. Good vision serves the robber fly well when it goes after its favored prey, which include other flies, moths, dragonflies and even spiders.
Spiders look scary close-up, with the exception of a few Jumping Spiders that have become popular Internet images. Wolf spiders sound seriously bad and they’ve got the looks to match. Shaggy, with massive venomous fangs and eight eyes of various sizes, wolf spiders patrol the landscape like their lupine namesakes, dispatching most any other creature approximating its size.
(image via: Ryan Photographic)
Wolf spiders express creepiness in another, almost endearing way: when the baby spiders in the egg sac the females carry around with them begin to hatch, the tiny spiderlings clamber up and onto the mother’s back and ride along, sharing in meals and taking advantage of mom’s fearsomely fanged deterrent.
If “ant lion” isn’t a scary enough name, how about “sand dragon”? Either way, you just know they’re up to no good. Ant lions have evolved a remarkably complex and unique method of feeding that is their claim to fame: they construct a conical depression in loose sand and hide just beneath the surface at the funnel’s apex. Anything that stumbles into the ant lion’s trap quickly finds that climbing up the sandy slopes take both effort and time – the latter of which is unavailable due to the intervention of the ant lion’s humongous fangs.
(image via: Devan-1)
Ant lions were the likely inspiration for one of the most frightening scenes in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), in which Jabba the Hutt feeds his captives to a sand-dwelling Sarlacc whose lair in the Great Pit of Carkoon lies just beneath Jabba’s floating ship.
Fast-flying hawkmoths are not rare; their large caterpillars are often found on tomato plants and feature a large “horn” on their tail leading to the casual name “tomato hornworm”. Hawkmoths are unusual among moths for their ability to make a high-pitched squeaking noise when irritated. Death’s-head hawkmoths display an eerie, skull-like pattern on their backs that serves no practical purpose other than to, unintentionally, give us the willies.
(images via: Growabrain)
Most people have never seen the death’s-head hawkmoth in the flesh, instead recalling its image from the posters advertising the 1991 horror film The Silence Of The Lambs. A curious fact about the image used on the poster – what appears to be a skull is actually a Salvador Dali portrait of several nude women!
Killer bees are the angry, winged, stinger-equipped poster kids for the maxim “do not mess around with nature!” The original intent was noble enough: toughen up meek European honey bees by breeding them with African bees so their progeny could withstand the rigors of tropical climates. Of course, a hybrid Killer Bee queen soon escaped from the lab and the overly sensitive, swarming critters have been making a beeline (sorry) for the USA ever since.
(image via: Hit The Road)
Killer bees first entered the United States through the town of Hidalgo, Texas, in the autumn of 1990. Seemingly without any other claim to fame or noteworthy roadside attraction, Hidalgo’s city council splurged the better part of their budget on the immense killer bee sculpture shown above. You’ll find it beside city hall, honey.
Imagine if researchers managed to cross tigers with mosquitoes… then again, let’s not, we already know what happened with the bees. There ARE tiger mosquitoes, however, and though they’re 100% insect they’re also plenty ferocious – and they’re out for your blood! Tiger mosquitos are easy to identify, just look for the striking black and white stripes… and the rapidly expanding blood-red belly.
(image via: Mosquitaire)
Formerly restricted to forest and wetland areas of southeast Asia, modern-day human travel patterns have spread the tiger mosquito to new habitats across the globe. It’s thriving as well; tiger mosquitoes do well in human communities and are active at any time of day instead of merely dawn and dusk.
Hickory Horned Devil
(image via: Entomology for Master Gardeners)
Hickory Horned Devils are the caterpillars of the Regal, or Royal Walnut moth. The caterpillars resemble those of hawkmoths but in this species the “horns” are longer, colored black & red, and come in clusters. Combined with their bright turquoise bodies, the horns really stand out and, it’s assumed, make predators think twice about having them for a snack.
(image via: The Hidden World)
Hickory Horned Devils can be found in the southeastern USA and are North Carolina’s largest caterpillars, growing up to 5 inches long. They’re harmless, though, both to humans and to other insects. Walnut and hickory trees, not so much.
(images via: Gigazine)
Vampire Moths are one instance in which the behavior of the creature fully backs up their unpleasant name. Yes indeed, these moths are fully equipped to suck blood from – in their native habitat – water buffalo and also humans if given the opportunity. The male Vampire Moths (females only drink fruit juices) press a barbed proboscis into the skin and drink to their heart’s content.
(image via: Vampirewire)
Entomologists only recently described the ghoulish feeding habits of these moths, possibly because occurrences have been exceedingly rare. On the bright side, it seems that unlike mosquitoes, Vampire Moths do not spread any communicable diseases or parasites when they drink blood.
Beewolves, also known as Digger Wasps… nah, “beewolf” is way cooler so I’m sticking with that. The way they got their name is sort of creepy, though: a female beewolf will paralyze a bee by stinging it, afterwhich it takes the doomed insect back to its underground lair and lays an egg on its body. The egg hatches into a larva that burrows into the somnolent bee and eats its fill. Sweet! Another curious habit of beewolves is that as adults they drink nectar – often acquired by “squeezing” the bees they have captured.
Beewolves have been in the news of late, and not because of their supremely rad name. It seems that the creatures have evolved a symbiotic relationship with certain species of bacteria who coat the surfaces of beewolf pupae with antibiotics. This protects the metamorphosing insects within safe from microbial attack during this critical period in their development. In the pair of images above, mass spectrometry was used to highlight the antibiotic compounds on the pupa’s surface.
As awesomely scary as beewolves sound, they don’t frighten everyone – in one Japanese town, digger wasps are baked into crispy crackers as part of a traditional recipe. Recipe for WHAT, who can say… and as for the taste, we’ll just guess that it has a mild sting.