Many predators use camouflage or lures to surprise and attract their prey, giving them an advantage and the chance to strike first. However, Australian researchers recently found an assassin bug that actually invites ants to bite its leg, and only then will it kill the ant. The research is published in the journal Current Biology.
“It is equivalent to a jackal preying on a lion, and expecting the lion to grab the jackal’s legs first,” said Matthew Bulbert of Macquarie University in North Ryde, Australia. “It was very much unexpected.”
The assassin bug begins by waving its hairy legs around to attract the ants. When an ant gets close, the bug does not attack even though it is surely within range. Instead, it waits for the ant to bite it before dealing the death blow, as this video shows:
“We here describe the predatory strategy of the nymphs of the ant-eating feather-legged assassin bug Ptilocnemus lemur that requires its often much larger predaceous ant-prey to grab the bugs’ hind legs before the nymph will attack,” Bulbert and colleagues wrote. “We propose that this unique physical predatory strategy is surprisingly effective in reducing the threat from a disproportionally dangerous prey animal.”
The researchers report that only 2.5% of bug-ant encounters actually resulted in the ant biting the bug’s leg, but when it did there was an 81% chance that the bug would kill the ant. They never once observed an ant killing an assassin bug nymph, even though some of the ants were five times larger than the bug nymphs.
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