Reduvius personatus, or the “masked hunter,” as the species is more commonly known, is an insect pest found throughout the United States, but they are most abundant in the northeastern and upper midwestern states. This species is native to Europe, but it was accidentally transported into the US shortly before 1900. In the south, masked hunters can be found both indoors and outdoors, but they dwell primarily within homes in the northern part of their habitat range. Masked hunters are in the Reduvidae family of the Hemiptera order of insects, which makes this species an “assassin bug” that is closely related to the disease-spreading insect pests commonly known as “kissing bugs.”

Adult masked hunters are shiny and black or dark-brown in color with a body length of around ¾ of an inch. They have a small head with a short beak, antennae, and two fully developed wings that cover their back. Immature masked hunters appear very different from adults because they cover themselves in lint, dust and other indoor debris for the purpose of camouflage. They secrete a sticky substance from their cuticle that causes lint and dust to stick to their body, giving them a greyish or whitish appearance. Immatures are a bit smaller than adults, and they lack fully developed wings. Immatures camouflage themselves so that they cannot be recognized by heir prey, and this is why the species earned its common name of masked hunter.

It is common for residents to spot one or a few masked hunters in their home on occasion, and their indoor presence is usually beneficial because they prey on a variety of insect pests, such as bed bugs, flies, carpet beetles, overwintering insects, and even insects of superior size. However, masked hunters become nuisance pests when large numbers occur within homes, and due to their preference for dry conditions, they are commonly found near heat registers, under cabinets and cupboards, and inside wall voids and attics. Since masked hunters prey on insects, a large number of masked hunters within a home indicates that many other insect pests are also present within the home.

Masked hunters are not interested in biting humans, but if they are mishandled they will not hesitate to inflict a bite with their piercing beak. A written account of a large-scale masked hunter invasion in northeastern homes back in 1899 describes how residents reacted to bites. Apparently, multiple victims vomited and fainted in response to the intense pain of a masked hunter bite, and many reports compare the pain of a masked hunter bite to a snake bite. Bites result in days or weeks of severe swelling, and sometimes, blistering, and one report states that those with a weak constitution may not be able to survive a masked hunter bite.

Have you ever spotted one or more masked hunters in your home?