Masked hunters are large (17 to 22 mm long) blackish or brownish-black plant bugs. In North America, there are over 160 species of plant bugs belonging to the same family (Reduviidae). These predatory species can be recognized by their heads which are long and so narrow behind their eyes that they appear to form a neck. Its mouth parts are transformed into tubes that suck in liquids from their prey.
Young plant bugs (nymphs) do not undergo any major change in appearance as they grow. They have rudimentary wings that lengthen gradually. The masked hunter nymph uses its hind legs to throw dust onto its body which is covered with sticky hairs – ergo its English nickname: “dust bug”. Adults have well-developed wings as well as functioning reproductive apparatus. Both nymphs and adults normally feed on insects, but this nocturnal bug also bites humans – often to defend itself but also to feed on blood. Its bite is very painful and could make someone uncomfortable for a week. One author claims that it bites more often in the warmer regions of the United States.
Places where they can be found in the home
One often sees masked hunters walking around the floor of old houses, perhaps because their insect prey can enter them more easily. This plant bug can also find refuge in holes in trees or under bridges where pigeons (and their parasites) congregate.
Fix any problems with insects that are liable to serve as their food supply, and vacuum.
Install screens, since masked hunters are attracted by light (which also attracts their prey), and plug up any openings so they cannot get into the house.
To get rid of these predators, you need to inspect the house to find their prey – often, bed bugs or flies, but other insects may also be involved.
The English and French names of the masked hunter (chasseur masqué) come from its nymph’s habit of covering itself with dust and other debris. These materials sometimes weigh as much as one-fourth of the nymph’s own weight.
An exotic plant bug of the genus Platymerus can spit saliva up to 30 cm to defend itself, and the saliva can cause blindness in humans !
Some plant bugs (masked hunters, western plant bugs) can be seen inside houses. People who do not recognize them sometimes confuse them with exotic plant bugs that are much less pleasant to be around since they can carry trypanosoma – a parasite that causes Chagas disease, which can be life-threatening in humans. Some of these assassin bugs are commonly called “kissing bugs” because they often inflict their bites near the lips of sleepers.