This Insect Uses Its Victims’ Carcasses As Camouflage
Imagine you’re wandering in the forests near Lake Victoria, in Kenya or Tanzania, when you spot something strange crawling on a leaf. It looks like a dozen or so ants, stuck together in a ball. But look more closely and you’ll see the ants are dead. And there’s a nasty-looking insect underneath, hauling these ants corpses along like a miniature backpack.
This is Acanthaspis petax, a member of the Reduviidae family, which is found in East Africa and Malaysia. Like other assassin bugs, it hunts its prey by piercing it with its proboscis, injecting paralysis-inducing saliva and an enzyme that dissolves tissue, then sucking out the innards. But unlike other bugs, it then fashions empty ant exoskeletons into protective outerwear. The insect can carry as many as 20 dead ants at a time, and binds them together with a sticky excretion into a cluster that may be larger than its own body.
For years, scientists debated why Acanthaspis petax engaged in this unusual behavior. It hunts several different types of prey, but appears to exclusively stack ant bodies on its back. Some suggested that the ant corpses may provide olfactory camouflage when hunting, while others thought the mound of bodies may be used as a visual distraction for larger creatures that are hunting the assassin bug. [continue]