Ninja-Like Ambush Bugs Don't Subsist on Meat Alone

The Ninja-like ambush bug catches its prey by turning invisible via camouflage, and has been known to take down spiders and other large, venomous insects. But one study found that ambush bugs don’t live on meat alone; they augment their diet with nectar from the flowers on which they perch.

The arms of ambush bugs are often described by biologists as “raptorial,” which means they can reach and grab their prey. The design looks a bit like a preying mantis. Unlike a mantis, an ambush bug doesn’t have to rely solely on power. It has an extending beak that clamps down and injects its prey with a powerful venom. Yesterday we talked about how spiders will sometimes detach their own legs in order to avoid being overcome by venom. The source of that venom is often one of these bugs.


There are ambush bugs that are green and yellow and hide on green and yellow flowers. There are ambush bugs that are black and white and hide on black and white flowers. They go wherever they cannot be seen, and they wait to strike.

For some time scientists thought that ambush bugs perched on flowers because the flowers would lure their prey. But why crouch by a food source and not take a nibble or two? One group of scientists decided to run some tests to investigate further.

They found that, restricted to a setting with no prey and without blossoms, the bugs died more quickly than they did at sites with no prey but with blossoms. The bugs also gravitated towards sugar water, when given a choice between that and regular water in a lab. And of two groups, one restricted to water along and the other allowed sugar water, the sugar water group lived longer—although its juveniles never gathered sufficient energy to molt.

So the bugs aren’t strict carnivores after all. Instead, they delicately sip from the flowers on which they perch. Then murder anything that comes near them.


Top Image: Coveredinsevindust. Image: Keegan Morrison, used under a Creative Commons ShareAlike License

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