Posts Tagged Wheel Bug

Pollinator Palooza

Feather-legged fly

Feather-legged fly

I have been spending way too much time outside with the camera lately. I’m not sure whether the diversity of pollinators in my garden has expanded this year, or I just wasn’t paying attention until now — mostly because I never had a camera that could come close to capturing these tiny, very active insects.

Well, mostly tiny. That very cool-looking creature above is actually relatively large, maybe the size of one of our common carpenter bees. Those “feathered” back legs are its diagnostic feature. It was bouncing around on my bronze fennel flowers.

It always held out its wings like this.

It always held out its wings like this.

As I mentioned on the Piedmont Gardener Facebook page earlier, this fly is a garden ally, not just for its pollination prowess. Its larvae parasitize the larvae of squash bugs and green stink bugs. Bring on the feather-legs!

A scoliid wasp maybe?

A scoliid wasp maybe?

This one was much smaller and also on the fennel flowers. Its red body-black head and wings conjures in my admittedly strange mind a mini-superhero pollinator.

Ready to leap into action?

Ready to leap into action?

All of these little wasps, bees, and flies are covered in tiny hairs that catch pollen.

A scoliid wasp, I think, enjoying the tiny flowers of my Greek oregano.

A scoliid wasp, I think, enjoying the tiny flowers of my Greek oregano.

I’ve learned that scoliid wasps come in a dazzling array of colors and stripes. All have larval forms that parasitize scarab beetle larvae, many of which are also garden pests. Until I had a camera that could capture these tiny beauties, I never realized how diversely wonderful they are.

Another scold maybe?

Another scoliid wasp maybe?

I ponder the shape of this one and wonder how such tiny “waists” are adaptive.

Perhaps another scoliid wasp -- this one with reddish-yellow stripes.

Perhaps another scoliid wasp — this one with reddish-yellow stripes.

The oregano and fennel flowers — both tiny and numerous — seem to attract the most diverse array of pollinators. This fall, I’m going to add some new perennials that will produce similar flower clusters. I want to attract all the squash bug and beetle eaters that I can!

The honeybees like the oregano flowers too.

The honeybees like the oregano flowers too.

Many different bumblebees, carpenter bees, and honeybees were all over the fennel and oregano too, but not dominantly so. The bees seemed to prefer anise hyssop flowers, zinnia blooms, and the abelias currently perfuming the humid air.

A buckeye enjoying oregano flowers.

A Common Buckeye enjoying oregano flowers.

The butterflies are still around too, butĀ still not as numerous as I’d like. I still haven’t seen a Monarch, although sitings not far from me have been reported.

A battered Red Admiral enjoying abelia flowers.

A battered Red Admiral enjoying abelia flowers.

Far more numerous than the butterflies are the dragonflies. I think they are largely responsible for the ragged look of many of the butterflies.

They patrol the skies from dawn to dusk.

They patrol the skies from dawn to dusk.

Writing spider finishing her breakfast

Writing spider finishing her breakfast

Of course, I’m not the only one who has noticed the pollinator palooza going on in my garden. The predators become more numerous daily. In addition to the sky dragons, spiders are setting up shop between tomato plants, on the bean trellis, among the tall zinnias — anywhere that’s likely to intercept the flight path of an unwary pollinator.

An Asian Praying Mantis doing its best to imitate a bronze fennel bloom stalk

An Asian Praying Mantis doing its best to imitate a bronze fennel bloom stalk

This mantis set up shop in the bronze fennel several days ago. It’s still there, so I’m thinking it is enjoying picking off the busy pollinators visiting the flowers just above this predator’s head.

Pollinators beware!

Pollinators beware!

When the mantis is extra hungry, it eschews its disguise, preferring to perch boldly right on top of the flowers.

Wheelbug on a fennel stem

Wheelbug on a fennel stem

This wheel bug moved in on the mantis’s fennel turf yesterday. They are ignoring each other, so I guess there are enough delicious pollinators to go around.

Small skink in the boulder garden

Small skink in the boulder garden

Of course, pollinators also need to be wary of non-insect predators like this young skink, which was chasing Pearl Crescent butterflies in the boulder garden.

Green frog on rim of water feature

Green frog on rim of water feature

As always happens in summer, mature green frogs have moved into my little water feature. Here they are safe from predators, such as water snakes, and can focus on being predatorsĀ themselves.

Ailanthus Web Worm moth on Joe Pye Weed flowers

Ailanthus Web Worm moth on Joe Pye Weed flowers

I’m picking beans and tomatoes every day, thanks in large part, I’m sure, to all these busy pollinators. But that productivity won’t last much longer, unless summer rains decide to visit my yard. In the last few weeks, all the storms have missed me. My creek has stopped flowing; it’s just a series of puddles between sand bars at the moment. Here’s hoping some juicy clouds have pity on my yard soon.

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The Bugs of Autumn

Wheel Bug

Insects and arachnids abound in my yard year-round. Even in January, Black Widow Spiders loiter under rocks, and large Garden Spiders guarding their egg sacs can be unintentionally uncovered when clearing debris from flower beds. Honey bees exploit any winter day with highs above 60 degrees F, frantically seeking pollen from my early bloomers.

The pace — and the quantity — of insect life visibly slows as autumn’s chilly grip tightens. Most of these creatures complete their life cycles in a year. Cold autumn mornings tend to catch these aging bugs snoozing — probably dying — in locations where I don’t see them in summer.

Take the Wheel Bug in the above photo. This is a kind of assassin bug, meaning it preys on any other insect it can pin with its long legs. That long tube extending down from its head is its piercing mouth apparatus. It stabs its victims and sucks their juicy innards dry. Note that I flipped this photo upside down here, so that you might more easily appreciate its structure.

In my yard and garden, Wheel Bugs are welcome. They are largely beneficial, since they eat a lot of stink bugs, caterpillars, and other pest insects that would otherwise devour my flowers and vegetables.

Named for the wheel-looking growth on their backs, I think these critters look like robot bugs; the wheels on their backs make them look mechanically driven to my eye. If you see such a creature in your yard, do NOT pick it up with your bare hands, no matter how slowly it is moving. These insect predators will stab anything within reach, including your fingers. I’ve read that the wounds can induce allergic reactions in some folks, but they hurt like the dickens in all folks, and the wounds take over a month to heal in most.

Here’s another recent visitor I spotted dining on my lantana leaves:

Yellow Bear Caterpillar

Yes, I know it’s not actually yellow. According to my caterpillar bible (Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner), the colors of this caterpillar vary widely, from nearly black, through orange, yellow, and beige. Their diagnostic characteristic are the long hairs — almost three times longer than their bodies — that protrude from their backs. If you click on this photo to enlarge it, you can see them more easily.

The rule of thumb with hairy caterpillars is to assume those hairs will sting, inflicting significant pain and possible allergic reactions if they encounter your skin. Treat all such caterpillars with respect. I was lucky enough to hear Dr. Wagner lecture on caterpillars when he visited the NC Botanical Garden a few years ago. This is a man dedicated to his work. He told the audience that he deliberately pressed hairy caterpillars onto his arm to see if they stung him — I kid you not!

This caterpillar becomes a Virginian Tiger Moth, a fairly nondescript mostly white moth whose larvae eat most any plant they encounter.

Here’s a Green Shield Bug that was dozing in the morning chill on a chair on my deck:

Green Shield Bug

My apologies for the less-than-great photo. The light was uncooperative. This member of the stink bug family spends its days sucking out the life juices from my veggies, flowers, and other plants. In so doing, they often introduce diseases into the plants they prey on. In short, I don’t like these bugs. But when I saw this bright green bug contrasted against the brown of my chair, I thought it might be worthy of a photo, especially since I know it was only there because its days are numbered. It may well have fallen from the tree above as cold nights and a rapidly aging body impede its ability to cling to vegetation.

And finally, I’ll leave you with a dozing Carpenter Bee:

Carpenter Bee slumbers on Pineapple Sage

Carpenter Bees only live one growing season. On chilly autumn mornings, I find them slumbering atop many of my remaining flowers, including the Pineapple Sage, which they seem to especially enjoy. Its not a bad way to go — slumbering among the flowers. Most of the late sleepers will eventually rouse as the sun hits them. Eventually, I do begin to find expired bee bodies on the ground beneath the plants. These bees are very fuzzy looking, especially their heads and yellow backs. I love to gently stroke those parts — a bit like stroking a cat — while they are too cold to argue. I taught my nephew this trick when he was a wee lad. He had been afraid of bees, but knowing that — at the right time of year — they were so docile helped him overcome his fear.

Lots of folks fear or hate insects and spiders, and, to me, that’s a shame. Their presence in your garden and yard — in balanced quantities — indicates you’re maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Doing so means less work for you, as beneficial insects keep the troublesome ones in check. And their behaviors and never-ending diversity serve as endless sources for exploration and entertainment.

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