assassin bug, common name for members of the family Reduviidae, one of the largest and most varied groups belonging to the order Hemiptera (suborder Heteroptera). Assassin bugs are generally brownish to black, medium-sized to large insects, with heads that are elongate and narrow compared to the thorax. The raptorial front legs are used for grasping prey. Most assassin bugs are found on foliage, and some occasionally enter houses. The majority of species are predaceous on other insects, but a few are bloodsucking and will bite humans if carelessly handled. The bite of some species is painless, while the bite of others is extremely painful, resulting from a venom produced by the bug, the effect of which lasts for months. A painful biter is the common, black, wheel bug ( Arilus cristatus ), easily identified by the semicircular crest resembling a cogwheel on the top of its prothorax. Another is the masked hunter ( Reduvius personatus ), often found in houses where it preys on bedbugs and other insects. The adults often bite humans around the mouth, hence its other common name, the kissing bug. In the Southwest assassin bugs of the genus Triatoma are common. Called conenoses or Mexican bedbugs, they also invade houses and may bite humans. In Central and South America certain species of this genus are the vectors for a highly fatal trypanosome disease known as Chagas' disease. Assassin bugs are classified in the phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta, order Hemiptera, family Reduviidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.