In the forests of Malaysia lives one of the most unique insects you may ever come across.
The Acanthaspis petax, more commonly known as the assassin bug, has quite the gruesome reputation, despite being barely half an inch in size.
After capturing its prey (typically ants), the assassin bug injects its victims with an enzyme that dissolves their insides, making it easy for the assassin bug to suck them out.
Once it has finished with its meal, the assassin bug attaches the empty exoskeleton of the ant to its body using a sticky secretion. But the assassin bug isn’t just a tiny bone-collector – there’s more to this grisly ritual.
In 2007, a team of researchers from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand carried out a set of experiments to see whether or not the assassin bug’s corpse-armor actually provided it with protection.
In the study, the researchers left assassin bugs alone with jumping spiders (their natural predators) in a glass cage. Some of the assassin bugs were covered in ant corpses, and others were left “naked”.
The results: assassin bugs equipped with corpse-armor were approximately ten times less likely to be attacked by the jumping spiders.
There were two reasons for this, according to the researchers.
For one, jumping spiders hunt by using their acute vision to leap on top of their prey. The researchers think that the large pile of ants on the backs of the assassin bugs changes their visual form so drastically that the spiders don’t even recognize them as prey.
The scientists also believe that the assassin bugs are using jumping spiders’ natural wariness of ants. Since ants tend to swarm attackers and are often equipped with harmful chemical weapons of their own, jumping spiders usually avoid hunting them.
This would also explain why the assassin bug only exhibits this behavior with ant corpses, refraining from using other insects it eats in the same way.
(h/t IL Knowledge)
Feature photo credit: Nicky Bay/Flickr