Published in Yard & Garden Brief, November 1999
Masked hunters, Reduvius personatus, are a type of assassin bug (Hemiptera: Reduviidae). They are originally from Europe and accidentally hitchhiked into the United States. They are now common, particularly in the east and central areas of this country, including Minnesota. They get their name from the immature bug's curious habit of carrying dust on its body to camouflage itself.
Adult masked hunters are dark brown to black and are elongate oval in shape. When full grown, they're about 3/4 inch long. They have a short, stout, 3-segmented beak. Immature masked hunters are similar but smaller and lack developed wings. They are often covered with dust, lint and other debris, giving them a grayish or whitish appearance. Underneath, however, they are dark-colored like adults.
Masked hunters do not feed on human blood. However, they are capable of inflicting painful bites as a defensive reaction if they are disturbed or carelessly handled. The bite feels like a bee sting followed by numbness and swelling. Rarely does a masked hunter bite require medical attention. Masked hunters do not transmit any disease.
Fortunately in most cases, no more than a few masked hunters are seen in a home. You can easily control these bugs by physically removing them, (e.g. with tissue paper or a broom and dust pan). Remember, be careful when dealing with masked hunters to avoid accidental bites. Should a masked hunter land on a person, just gently brush the masked hunter away.
If large numbers of masked hunters are found, it is likely that there is another insect that is also abundant. To control masked hunters, find and eliminate this food source. Insecticides may temporarily control these bugs but if their food source remains, so will the masked hunters.
Because bed bugs are a common food source of masked hunters, look for them when masked hunters appear in large numbers. Bed bugs are found in cracks and crevices in mattresses, bed covers, box springs, hollow bedframes, upholstery of other furniture, behind baseboards, peeling wallpaper, pictures, and light fixtures. They'll hide anywhere that is dark and gives them cover.
Also check for bats. A common bed bug species in Minnesota, the bat bed bug, is associated with bats. If bat bed bugs are present, they may attract masked hunters. For more information on bed bugs, see the Prevention and control of bed bugs in residences.