• dermal glands;
  • sundew setae;
  • predation strategy;
  • comparative morphology;
  • evolutionary novelty


Zhang, G. and Weirauch, C. 2011. Sticky predators: a comparative study of sticky glands in harpactorine assassin bugs (Insecta: Hemiptera: Reduviidae). —Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 00: 1–10.

For more than 50 years, specialized dermal glands that secrete sticky substances and specialized setae have been known from the legs of New World assassin bugs in the genus Zelus Fabricius (Reduviidae: Harpactorinae). The gland secretions and specialized ‘sundew setae’ are involved in enhancing predation success. We here refer to this predation strategy as ‘sticky trap predation’ and the specialized dermal glands as ‘sticky glands’. To determine how widespread sticky trap predation is among Reduviidae, we investigated taxonomic distribution of sticky glands and sundew setae using compound light microscopical and scanning electron microscopical techniques and sampling 67 species of Reduviidae that represent 50 genera of Harpactorini. We found sticky glands in 12 genera of Harpactorini and thus show that sticky trap predation is much more widespread than previously suspected. The sticky glands vary in shape, size and density, but are always located in a dorsolateral position on the fore tibia. Sundew setae are present in all taxa with sticky glands with the exception of Heza that instead possesses unique lamellate setae. The sticky trap predation taxa are restricted to the New World, suggesting a New World origin of this unique predation strategy.