Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips


GARDEN TIPS – written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written August 13, 2015


Remember a few weeks ago when I talked about the elm seed bug, a new invasive insect getting in area homes? Now a number of home owners are finding another bug inside 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 recently been seeing an increasing number of them.

The masked hunter bug is one member of a group of bugs known as “assassin” bugs. Coming here originally from Europe, the masked hunter bug is not native here, but it is common throughout the US. As a true bug, the masked hunter has an elongated shield-shaped back with an “X” pattern on its back created by its folded wings. The 3/4 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 masked hunters are seeking food which can include a variety of insects, including bed bugs, bat bugs, and swallow bugs. They are effective “assassins” because they are nocturnal, hiding during the day and coming out at night looking for food. 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 to a wasp or bee sting and may result in some swelling. While occasionally a masked hunter may bite if unprovoked, most human bites are made in self-defense.

It may be reassuring to know that masked hunters tend to travel alone wandering from one place to another. If you do not have a large number of insects in your home, you are not likely to encounter one or more masked hunters. While “beneficial” they should not be considered an effective method of pest control. Carefully get rid of any you find indoors.

To prevent more from being attracted to your home, look for any 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 and keep clean places the masked hunter can hide, such as under beds, along baseboards, in corners, or any place else dust collects.

Outside, tighten up your house with caulking if needed. If you leave outdoor lights on at night, change to low pressure sodium lights. Research indicates that yellowish sodium lights attract fewer insects and spiders than other types of lighting.

Another type of assassin bug found in the US is the conenose or “kissing” bug. These bugs feeds on the blood of mammals and the kissing bug’s bite and can transmit Chagas disease, caused by a parasite, to humans, dogs and small animals. This disease, primarily found in the Southwest and Central America, is not transmitted by masked hunter bugs and is not found in our region.

I wonder what insect will be “bugging” us next?

Garden Tips, WSU Extension, Benton County, 5600-E West Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336-1387, 509-735-3551, Contact Us

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