Sunday, October 20, 2013


The term "assassin" usually applies to hired killers or those that have killed persons of influence for some other gain beyond the dollar. John Wilkes Booth, Gavrilo Princip, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and Mark David Chapman are just a few that history has provided in just the last 100 years. 
Interestingly, all of these killers used firearms. Don't think for a minute that all assassins use guns. Just ask Georgi Markov.
The Bulgarian dissident writer who fled the Communist Regime and moved to the West was standing at a London bus stop in 1978.  Feeling a sharp pain in his thigh, he turned to see man holding an umbrella. Upon reporting to work, Markov mentioned the incident to co-workers. As the day moved along, a fever developed and soon worsened. Three days later, he was dead.
His co-workers mentioned the bus stop incident to the police. Suspicious that his death was really a successful "hit" (after two known unsuccessful attempts), a full autopsy was performed. A small metal capsule had been stabbed (or shot) into his leg. It was covered in a sugar-like coating designed to melt at body temperature. Eventually, ricin flooded his system.  Extracted from castor beans, this poison is lethal in doses that would compare to a few salt grains from your average shaker. 
His assassin was never caught though the individual was rumored to be hired by the KGB.

We know it wasn't the critter in the photo below even though they use a similar modus operandi. 
Known to some as an Assassin Fly, this handsome critter is officially known to entomologists as a Robber Fly.  As a predator, you could perhaps think of it as robbing its prey of life.  Call it what you will, if you pay attention to the beasties of the wild, you will see one before too long. 

Officially members of the family Asilidae (Uh-SILL-uh-day), Robber Flies are true honest-to-goodness flies (unlike Dragonflies which are completely different). Found on all continents except Antarctica, over 7,000 species have been described in science.  Over 1,000 can be found in North America alone.

The big ones can be almost two inches long.   It is what they do with that two-inch body that helps them earn the name (which ever you choose to use).  Using the six powerful legs, flying prey is literally snagged from mid-air.  That prey, by the way, can include just about anything that is small enough for them to capture.
Keep in mind, the use of the word small is more of a reference for us.  For them, their prey is often as big as they are! Other flies, wasps, butterflies, true bugs, and dragonflies are just some of the things that find themselves in the Robber Fly death-grip.

But it is not the gripping that does the killing. It is their mouth.  No biting here.  Nope, they poke.  Armed with a short, stout probiscis (pro-BOS-kiss), they stab the prey after they have secured a grip.  Protein-dissolving enzymes are injected into the prey's body.  Paralysis sets in and internal tissues break down. The "flow", if you will, then reverses.  Instead of injecting more enzymes in to the prey, the dissolved guts are sucked out.  (Remember, insects have an exoskeleton so the gooey innards are contained in a shell much like juice in a drink box with the straw filling the role of the proboscis.) Hunting resumes for another liquid lunch.  

Now think back to Mr. Markov....
Prey.  Predators.  Ingenious needle-like delivery systems.  Toxins. Death.

Who would have thought that the animal world and world of global espionage would have anything in common.  

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