After so many years of taking photographs of insects in the immediate area, it is still possible to find something new. Take for example this brown bug I found on the petals of a Mexican hat flower.

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It turned out to be a shield-backed bug, family Scutelleridae.

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Shield-backed bugs are relatives of stink bugs, and in fact they used to be in the same family. However, the scutellum (a part of the thorax) is much larger and covers the entire abdomen, including the wings. This structure resembles the hardened elytra of beetles and at first glance shield-backed bugs do look like beetles.

Like some of the more familiar stink bugs, shield-backed bugs feed on plants, particularly members of the family Asteraceae, to which Mexican hat plants belong. They have sucking mouthparts that they use to suck plant juices.

Also like stink bugs, shield-backed bugs have defensive glands that release a pungent scent if the insect is threatened or disturbed.

Discovering a whole new (to me) family of insects this week is quite exciting.

Have you seen any interesting insects this week?

Have you ever seen a shield-backed bug before?

Our tiny mystery seeds from last week were from thyme, Thymus sp.

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Thyme is a small, evergreen perennial plant with tiny delicate leaves, which grows to only about 12 inches tall. It has been selected from wild plants originally found in southern Europe.

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Belonging to the mint family (it has square stems), selection has led to many different varieties.  General forms are common thyme, lemon thyme, caraway thyme and wild thyme.

Thymus_vulgaris(Public domain illustration from Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen, Wikimedia)

The tiny white, pink or lilac-colored flowers attract bees.

Thyme is an herb that is used in cooking, either fresh or dried. It tends to have a powerful flavor, so use it sparingly. One advantage is that it has such small leaves it doesn't require much mincing.

 Do you grow thyme? What is your favorite recipe for using it?