Palm sweat pilot

You’re grasping a vintage palm pilot,

When a Hoverfly lands! And while it

Licks salt and tastes ya

Record echinacea 

With palm sweat, palm tears, palm pilot

Ambush Bugs: The T-Rex of the Prairie

Around the middle of peak flowering, a new character began appearing on Echinacea
heads. This is the ambush bug, the endearing name given to this insect, which looks like either a preying mantis or a miniature T-rex. As I do phenology I incidentally happen upon these bugs. Often times I will see an ambush bug on the same head over multiple phenology days. It appears that they prefer heads that are mid-flowering and they sit on the styles which are present below the row of anthers that are presenting pollen that day. I think that there may be a connection between a lack of shriveled styles and the presence of ambush bugs. Ambush bugs- members of the subfamily phymatinae- are predatory insects which lie in wait for other insects to land on the Echinacea head and then pounce. I enjoy taking advantage of this instinct by waving my pen in front of an ambush bug which will bat at the tip with their claw like front legs.

On August 2nd I found an ambush bug with prey in hand on a head at Steven’s Approach. You can see in the photo below that the ambush bug trapped a pollinator. The pollinator was still wiggling its leg bug the ambush bug maintained its grip.


This photo gives evidence of a potential mechanism for the hypothesized interference of style shriveling caused by ambush bugs. If the ambush bug pounces on a pollinator before said pollinator makes its rounds on a head, the styles will not receive compatible pollen and so will not shrivel. I think that the relationship of the ambush bug, pollinators and style shriveling would be a very interesting independent research project in the future.

Below is a photo of two mating ambush bugs. I first spotted this pair on August 8th on a head at East Riley. I was surprised to find that these bugs were in the same location two days later on August 10th. In this photo you can see the abundance of persistent flowers on this head. In addition, you can see that some of the florets are engorged and pushed up. This is most likely the result of a caterpillar or larvae predating on the flower or growing below the florets. Stay tuned to hear more about the saga of the ambush bug!


More Microscopic Images

In the lab, we have found more insects, a spider, and a lot of web in the Echinacea heads we have been cleaning. The insects include another lacewing fly and two beetles that I cannot identify. I also found a hard shell that looks like a Syrphid fly pupal case. I have the web and the egg sacs clustered because of the amount that we tend to find in the lab.

Unidentified Beetle No. 1:
This beetle is black with two longitudinal yellow stripes down its dorsal side. It has wings and extended back legs for jumping. The mouth part is a golden color, similar to its legs. It also has reddish colored eyes. The beetle’s wings extend pass its abdomen slightly. The beetle also has very small antennae.

Unidentified Beetle No. 2:
This beetle’s body has been flattened in the bag or during cleaning. It is brown with lighter brown wings. The wings do not expand past its thorax. The beetle’s legs are short. The thorax and the abdomen form a pentagonal shape. The eyes are a dark brown color.

Lacewing Fly:
This lacewing fly has different characteristics in the abdomen than the previous one I posted. I suspect that the insects are different genders, based on the different abdomen shapes, but I was unable to find anything on sexing lacewing flies.

I suspect this spider to be a type of jumping spider due to the body and leg shapes and the fact that it has eight eyes. The four smaller eyes can be seen on the back of the head and this gives the spider more accurate vision and a wider range of sight. The spider’s head has a square shape with four eyes in the front and two eyes on each side. They are very hard to see, but there is a slight reflection of light where the other four eyes are located.

Syrphid Fly Pupa Case:
This is a hard, transparent shell of either a larva or a maggot that I could not identify. Stuart suspects that it is from a Syrphid fly pupa. The piece sitting next to it was broken off when I was moving the specimen with the forceps.

Spider Web Cluster:
This is a cluster of web and egg sacs that we have found in the Echinacea plant material. We tend to find a lot of web and egg sacs when cleaning Echinacea heads.

find spittlebug spittle masses

This file lists places to look for spittlebug spittle masses in the CG. At the top there are rows in the 99 garden and the 99S garden sorted randomly. Then all bigbatch rows (noted with end positions) are listed in a random order.

Enjoy your search!

So You’re Telling Me They’re Not Bees?

Do You Know What Kind of Insect This Is?

Team Echinacea sure didn’t until some crafty web searching informed us that these mysterious holed creatures are the larvae of Tiger Beetles. A frustrating day a few weeks ago was spent trying to figure out what lived in these 1 centimeter in diameter holes. Careful observation seemed to disprove what we had always assumed before; that they belong to the solitary bees that pollinate the Common Garden. You know what they say about when you assume…

What you can see is the underside of its head, as is visible in the diagram below.

(Diagram from Westminster College)

The larva at the top is sitting and waiting for something edible to walk by before it attacks. Apparently the bottom one confused the nearby rock with actual prey. This footage was acquired in the common garden with the assistance of excess equipment from Team Video.

Had that rock actually been an ant the larva would pull it to the bottom of its hole (which can be up to 1 meter long) and devour it. Later it will fling the indigestible exoskeleton out. Additional footage captured the larvae flinging dirt out while expanding its home. Simply more information about the inhabitants of the Common Garden.

Ants in my pants (and by in my pants, I mean on my mind)

In general, the two main differences between ’99 South and the main common garden (for damage assessment and herbivory) appears to be less damage in ’99 South and more ants (and less ant diversity).

When doing phenology in the ’99 common garden about a week ago I noticed that the plants in the eastern-most row (those along the very edge) appeared to be more likely to have ants and (very anecdotally) seemed to have a different amount of florivery damage and browning than the rest of the garden (it’s been too long owing to my laxness in flogging and I can’t remember if it was less or more, though I am inclined to say less). Whether there actually is a difference in damage and whether this difference results from ants, edge effects, or chance remains to be seen.

A few days ago when I was doing phenology in the ’99 South common garden I noted that the majority of plants in the garden had ants and that there was low variability in ant species composition – virtually all I saw where the large black ones with red heads. These ants were very aggressing and would leap off the flower head onto my stylus as I was pointing at the anthers to count them. I could practically hear them sharpening their mandibles. The northern-most row (those along the very edge) had few ants and the ants were of different species, including small black ones and light-colored ones. Interestingly, there was much more damage in this row.

Are these large ants actively defending their flower heads and increasing plant fitness?

Do other species of ants contribute less to the echinacea in terms of defense? Do they take more away in terms of pollen and nectar? It is not uncommon to see ants covered/dusted in pollen (I never observed this of the large black species) and I have twice seen a small black ant actively carrying pollen in its mandibles.