Arthropods 6

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Southern California Arthropods (Mostly) #6: True Bugs (Order Hemiptera = Heteroptera)
© W.P. Armstrong 15 April 2009
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Giant Water Bug Family (Belostomatidae)

Giant water bug from Florida.

Giant water bugs (Abedus indentatus), affectionately called "toe biters" by barefooted swimmers. These large bugs of the family Belostomatidae cling motionless to underwater plants and debris in southern California streams. They periodically come to the surface to replenish their air supply carried in a bubble under the wings. With their poweful raptorial front legs they catch other aquatic insects, tadpoles and even small fish. Females typically deposit their eggs on the backs of the males. Brooding males provide for the needs of the eggs by exposing them to air and an intermittent flow of water. In addition, the eggs are protected and are not accessible to the ravenous males.

Toad Bug Family (Gelastocoridae)

Toad bug (Gelastocoris oculatus) from the San Gabriel River, Los Angeles County. This is one of the truly unusual and well-camouflaged little bugs of southern California.

Milkweed Bug Family (Lygaeidae)

Large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) on narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) in the northern Coast Range.

Large milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) on a milkweed seed pod with several hairy seeds.

Ambush Bug Family (Phymatidae)

An ambush bug (Phymata fasciata). This well-camouflaged little bug (order Heteroptera) is a fierce predator and may capture insects much larger than itself. With is strong raptorial forelegs it grasps it prey while injecting venom with it tubular sucking mouthparts. I have seen an ambush bug kill a honeybee in a flower. According to Thomas Eisner (For Love of Insects, 2003), ambush bugs caught in the webs of orb weaver spiders (Argiope aurantia) actually killed their captors by biting the spiders in their legs. Eisner observed that the spiders often exhibited autotomy (shedding their bitten legs) and were able to survive the bite of the ambush bug.

Well-Camouflaged Ambush Bug On The Inflorescence Of Lantana
See Spittle Bug Family (Aphrophoridae) In The Order Homptera

Stink Bug Family (Pentatomidae)

Adult Say's stink bug (Chlorochroa sayi) with fully developed wings.

More Images Of Say's Stinkbug Nymphs

Harlequin Bug Nymph and Adult On Mustard Plants

Harlequin Bug Nymph (Pentatomidae) On Black Mustard

Harlequin bug nymph (Murgantia histrionica) on Brassica nigra.

Harlequin Bug Adult (Pentatomidae) On Perennial (Short-Pod) Mustard

Harlequin bug winged adult (Murgantia histrionica) on Hirschfeldia incana.

Assassin Bug Family (Reduviidae)

The western cone-nosed bug (Triatoma protracta) inhabits the nests of wood rats in the southwestern United States. Using their piercing beak, these bugs primarily suck the blood of Neotoma species. They are known to carry a trypanosome and occasionally bite people while they are sleeping. Because they typically bite in soft areas of the body, such as the lips, they are sometimes called "kissing bugs." Cone-nosed bugs belong to the Reduviidae, a family of predatory bugs with elongate, tapering snouts.

A wood rat nest (black arrow) in the coastal sage scrub plant community east of Palomar College. The nest is constructed by the dusky-footed wood rat (Neotoma fuscipes). It is made of sticks and dead branches, mostly from sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and black sage (Salvia mellifera). In the southwestern United States, the cone-nosed bug (Triatoma protracta) inhabits the nests of wood rats. Using their piercing mouthparts, these bugs primarily suck the blood of Neotoma species. They are known to carry a trypanosome and occasionally bite people.

Highly magnified view (2000 X) of Trypanosoma lewisi (red arrow) swimming among red blood cells of a rat. Several species of Trypanosoma infect humans. African sleeping sickness is caused by T. gambiense and T. rhodesiense, two species of flagellates transmitted by biting flies of the genus Glossina, better known as tsetse flies. Unless treated in early stages, African sleeping sickness is a potentially fatal disease. Chagas disease of the American tropics is caused by another trypanosome (T. cruzi) that is spread by blood-sucking bugs of the genera Triatoma and Rhodnius. In the southwestern United States, a species of Triatoma called the cone-nosed bug (T. protracta) inhabits the nests of wood rats (Neotoma spp.). Using their piercing mouthparts, these bugs primarily suck the blood of wood rats. They are known to carry a trypanosome and occasionally bite people while they are sleeping. Symptoms of the bite range from mild itching, severe joint pain, nausea, chills and dizziness to anaphylactic shock. Most people exibit no adverse reactions, and the severe cases reported in hypersensitive people appear to be due to serious allergic reactions, possibly from the bug's saliva. [Image from an old (circa 1960) prepared microscope slide enhanced with Adobe PhotoShop by W.P. Armstrong.]

Assassin Bug Family (Reduviidae): Bee Assassin

A bee assassin (Apiomerus crassipes) in the flowers of sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). This plant attracted numerous honey bees (Apis mellifera) and yellow jackets (Vespula pennsylvanica). Although yellow jackets landed near the above bee assassin, it did not attack them.

Close-up view of bee assassin (Apiomerus crassipes) on the stem of sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). The long, sticky hairs on tibiae of forelegs presumably help in the capture of prey. The tarsi are very small on this species. The resinous hairs on the forlegs and thorax are covered with fine grains of sand, appearing like white, pixelated particles in photo. Apparently the bee assassin actually collects this sticky coating from nearby shrubs and applies the resin to its body and legs.

A juvenile (nymph) assassin bug on Owens Peak north of Palomar College. It is well-camouflaged and matches the Santiago Peak Metavolcanic Rock, including the white plagioclase crytals. This might be the "bee assassin" (Apiomerus crassipes).

Another Bright-Colored Arizona Assassin Bug

Apiomerus flaviventris another species of bee assassin in southern Arizona.

Choe, D.-H. and M. K. Rust. 2007. "Use of Plant Resin by a Bee Assassin Bug, Apiomerus flaviventris
(Hemiptera: Reduviidae)." Annals of the Entomological Society of America 100 (2): 320-326.

More Assassin Bugs in Family Reduviidae

Another handsome assassin bug on "P" mountain (Owens Peak) north of Palomar College.

Bordered Plant Bug Family (Largidae)

Bordered plant bug (Largus cinctus californicus = L. californicus) collected on a Toyota Prias.

Western Leaf-Footed Bug Family (Coreidae)

A western leaf-footed bug (Leptoglossus clypealus) sitting on arrow weed (Pluchea sericea). The common name of this bug is derived from the leaf-like enlargements of its hind tibiae (white arrow).

Bed Bug Family (Cimicidae)

"Sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite."

The following image shows the relative size of these small bugs compared with a U.S. penny:

Common bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are found throughout temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. They are generally replaced in tropical regions by a similar species C. hemipterus. Genetic studies using mitochondrial DNA indicate that populations contain a high degree of genetic variability and have become resistant to a variety of insecticides. Consequently, this species is making a rapid comeback in human dwellings, even in upscale hotels. The U.S. Penny is 19 mm in diameter.

Common bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are troublesome little bugs that can be especially persistent in unkept motels and rooming houses. Mature adults are about 6 mm (1/4 in.) long. They are reddish-brown in color, but change to bright red when engorged with blood after 5 to 10 minutes of feeding. During the day they hide in crevices in walls and floors, behind wall decorations, headboards and in furniture. They also congregate along the seams of mattresses and box springs. At night they invade beds to feed on human blood, although they will also feed on the blood of other mammals and birds. They are attracted to the host animal primarily by carbon dioxide and secondarily by warmth. Bed bugs are excellent hitchhikers on clothing, bedding, luggage, etc. Signs of bed bugs are black fecal spots and red blood spots on sheets, and of course, red blotches on human skin. If you spot any signs of bed bugs in your room, check out and find another motel.

The bed bug pierces its host with two pairs of sharp mandibular and maxillary stylets contained within an elongate beak (proboscis). The fused pair of maxillary stylets form two hollow tubes (canals). The salivary canal injects saliva containing an anticoagulant while the food canal withdraws blood from its host. The digrammatic cross section of beak shows how the two grooved maxillary stylets are fused together forming the two canals.


  1. Evans, A.V. 2007. Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. New York, New York.  

  2. Hogue, C.L. 1993. Insects of the Los Angeles Basin. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

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