Saturday, September 25, 2010

"ASSASSIN!" Red-eyed Vireo With Assassin Bug

     A few days ago, while Weeding For Dollars and  minding my own business, I was suddenly surrounded by dozens of little birds. Going for my camera, there was a flurry of five or six Tufted Titmice slamming into the screen door as if trying to get into the house. With them were Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, a Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped warblers, Cedar waxwings and this Red-eyed vireo. The shrubs and trees were rich and alive with twittering, tweeting chittering passerines. It felt like an attack!
     Passerines are birds in the order Passeriformes. Nearly half of all birds fall into this group including the perching birds and songbirds. The little tweetie birds are Passerines. During migration in either spring or fall, the trees buzz and trill with them as they pass through, gleaning insects and picking seeds as fast as they can. Especially in fall, they congregate in mixed flocks like the one that overwhelmed me.
     The Red-eyed vireo jumped from the leaves in front of me carrying this insect. I think it's an Assassin Bug. Assassin bugs are predacious. They lie in wait to ambush their prey. Then, they stab the victim with their proboscis or beak and suck out the vital juices. There are 3,000 species of 'Conenose bugs,' also called 'Kissing bugs." About 100 of them suck blood. The blood sucking members of the family are abundant in warm climates.  In South America, there is one member of the family Reduviidae that bites humans around the eye lids and lips. It crawls onto the face while the person is sleeping inflicting a painful bite. They carry a potentially deadly protozoan causing potentially fatal Chagas Disease. Chagas Disease, called "mal de Chagas", in Paraguay is similar to Sleeping Sickness which occurs in Africa.
     During my tour in the Peace Corps in Paraguay, I was bitten by one of these monsters while I slept. When I woke up, my entire left eye was swelled shut. I was tested from Chagas Disease, but the results were inconclusive. Maybe I had it; maybe I didn't. The organism can remain dormant in the body for decades. To date, I have not developed symptoms. It's been over thirty years, but I'm still waiting. Assassin bugs here aren't a threat to anyone, so I wouldn't kill one. Still, I admit to a certain glee at seeing it about to be lunch for the Vireo. "Who's the assassin now, mister?"



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12 comments:

  1. The birds are great.I think the incubation period may be over for getting the disease now,don't you nurse Nancy ?Avery cute story.

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  2. Thanks, bmc.Actually, be cause the disease is caused by a protozoan, there's isn't an "incubation period," as there would be with a virus or bacteria, or even a spirochete. The protozoan can stay in the body for literally decades before it causes symptoms of disease. So, no - I could still get sick from it. I am not allowed to give blood or organs for transplant because of that.

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  3. God damn it, I thought I had some good surf pictures duing that storm last year but I see I need to put those away now.

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  4. srb, you think you feel bad now, wait until you see my actual SURF-ING photos!

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  5. Hi Robin ...Always wonder what those ugly bugs where!!
    Good job Mr Vireo!! : }

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  6. Thank you, Grammie G. I too, love it when someone else does my dirty work for me. Guilt and pest free in one fell swoop.

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  7. Okay, Okay, it turns out that the bug is actually a Leaf Footed Bug in the genus Leptoglossus. See the projection on its hind leg that is flattened? Some one in bug science hitory thought it looked like a leaf, thus the name. But, how boring is that compared to what I told you, which was, other than a misidentification of the Vireos' dinner, all true. My apologies. Hope you don't flunk your bio. exam. on account of this.

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  8. Lordy, Lordy! Glad I stopped by your blog tonight.....killer bug bites to the eyes--no doubt a nightmare is brewing with that one. I've had a spider in the ear, and that was no fun, but it didn't bite me or lay eggs--at least that's what the ER doc said! :-) Awesome photos of the vireo with the bug. I love those little birds. He looks so fierce hauling the bug around.

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  9. Thanks, Kelly. A spider in the ear? YUK! I've had ticks in my ear - no fun at all.

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  10. Great pictures and story! I never would've known it wasn't the bug you said it was...

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