Camouflage is not unusual in nature. Some animals change color and shape to confuse their enemies, while some are able to hide with crafty disguises. Acanthaspis petax is a species of assassin bug common in East Africa and Malaysia. These insects attack their victims -- usually ants -- with a paralysis-inducing saliva and then suck out the innards of their prey. But they don’t stop there. They’ll typically turn the empty exoskeletons -- as many as 20 at a time -- into a sticky cloak that discourages attacks from predators. Some scientists think that this coat of ant corpses provides olfactory camouflage, while others think it works as a visual distraction that confuses enemies.
Watch out for the proboscis:
- A 2007 study in New Zealand found that jumping spiders attacked "unadorned" assassin bugs about 10 times more often than those wearing a mound of dead ants.
- The researchers theorized that Acanthaspis petax may rely on the spiders’ reluctance to attack ants. Ants have a tendency to swarm and secrete debilitating chemicals, so spiders typically avoid hunting them.
- Even for humans, large assassin bugs should be treated with caution. A stab from the proboscis can be painful.