Remember a few weeks ago when I talked about the elm seed bug, a new invasive insect getting in area homes? Now homeowners are finding another bug in their homes. The masked hunter bug is not new to our area, but usually only one or two are brought to me for identification each year. However, I have been seeing an increasing number of them.
The masked hunter bug is one member of a group of bugs known as assassin bugs. Originally from Europe, it is common throughout the U.S. As a true bug, it has an elongated shield-shaped back with an X pattern on its back created by its folded wings. The .75- to 1-inch-long adult masked hunter is a shiny brown-black color with no colorful markings. The young nymphs (immature stages) look similar, but often mask themselves by covering their bodies with dirt and dust particles.
You will probably not notice another important physical characteristic: its short beak, or proboscis, tucked under its body. When feeding, this beak allows it to stab, paralyze and suck out the body fluids of its prey. When inside a home, the bugs are seeking food, which include insects like bed bugs, bat bugs and swallow bugs. They are effective assassins because they are nocturnal. In addition, the dusty coating of the nymphs is great camouflage.
While they are considered beneficial because they eat other insects, masked hunters are not benign and should not be handled. Its bite can be painful and has been compared with a wasp or bee sting, and may result in swelling. While it may occasionally bite if unprovoked, most human bites are made in self-defense.
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It may be reassuring to know that masked hunters tend to travel alone, wandering from one place to another. If you do not have insects in your home, you are unlikely to encounter them. While beneficial, they should not be considered an effective method of pest control.
To prevent more from being attracted to your home, look for other possible insect populations and control them. Make sure you do not have any swallows or bats roosting in or near your home. Thoroughly clean places the bug can hide, such as under beds, along baseboards and in corners.
Outside, caulk around house if needed. If you leave outdoor lights on at night, change to low-pressure sodium lights. Research shows that yellowish sodium lights attract fewer insects and spiders than other types of lighting.