Friday, September 24, 2010

Goldenrod Ninjas

Goldenrods are blooming in abundance at our park. Their brilliant yellow flowers are irresistible to many insects, especially the butterflies.

Delicate and dainty, Pearl Crescents, Phyciodes tharos, were numerous, flittering about on Riddell's Goldenrod, Oligoneuron riddellii.

Common Buckeyes, Junonia coenia, were also enjoying the abundant nectar from the goldenrods. Usually flighty. this one let me sneak up fairly close for a shot before it took off.

When butterflies and other insects are slurping up nectar, they tend to not pay attention to potential dangers that lurk around them. This nearby plant looks fairly safe at first glance.

But the view from the other side tells a different story. Yep, a hungry Praying Mantis lies in wait for an insect to land. Scroll back up to the prior picture and see if you can spot its abdomen, which looks similar to a dead leaf.

The Stiff Goldenrod, Oligoneuron rigidum, in our butterfly garden also had hidden horrors. This gray, dead "leaf" is actually the abdomen of a Wheel Bug, Arilus cristatus. It flew away before I got a decent shot, but you can see a better photo at a previous post. This armored insect grasps its prey and inserts a huge needle-like stylet into the insect, fills it full of paralyzing enzymes that digest the prey's innards, then slurps it up like a yummy bug milkshake. Mmmm good!

But the Praying Mantis and Wheel Bug are not the masters of camouflage. There is one bug that truly rules the goldenrod patch. A goldenrod ninja lurks among the blossoms...

Looking like a dead flower head, the cropped picture reveals the stealthy predator. A Jagged Ambush Bug, Phymata pennsylvanica, is concealed from unsuspecting nectar seekers.

Checking another flower, the small brown patch on the right side of the flower is another Ambush Bug.

By tipping the flower, this angle shows the mini-ninja. But don't be fooled by its tiny size...

Here's one with a small bee which looks like the appropriate size meal for this critter. But wait, there's more. Just like the Wheel Bug, the Ambush Bug also has crippling enzymes in its arsenal of tricks. Faster than lightening, the Ambush bug will grab a bug with its thick front legs and zap it with powerful enzymes that immobilize much larger prey. And many times, they do it while mating! Talk about multi-tasking! This photo from BugGuide shows two little Ambush Bugs mating and dining on a huge BALD-FACED HORNET! Yikes!

Impressive skills, ninja warrior, very impressive!StumbleUpon

1 comment:

Amber Coakley said...

I was just talking about finding some native, fall-flowering plants for my wildscapes - goldenrod! Of course! What a bounty of bugs. I mean ninjas.