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Bug of the Week: Finding More

Last week it was beginning to feel like spring here in Arizona, so I set out with my camera.

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I figured something must be happening around this large brittlebush, because it had started to flower.

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At my first pass, I really didn't see anything at all. I thought I'd just take a photograph of a flower or two.

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Wait, there is a honey bee. I had expected to see honey bees because they are active year round. Okay, there was something going on. See the ball of orange pollen on its hind leg?

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The honey bees were quite active, so I started watching them.

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Now there's a sweat bee, also gathering nectar and pollen.

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Looking around more, I spotted these red insects on the tips of some branches.

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They are sunflower aphids. Brittlebush plants are members of the Asteraceae or sunflower family, so that makes sense. Funny that I hadn't seen them at first.

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Now I spotted a fly.The colorful patterns on its wings suggest it is a picture-wing fly, family Tephritidae.

It isn't unusual to see flies taking nectar at flowers, but something isn't quite right here. This is only a flower bud. It doesn't have nectar yet.

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See that dark tube at the back of the fly? She is using her ovipositor (egg-laying tube) to lay eggs into the flower bud.

Some research reveals the mystery fly is named Euaresta stigmatica. The larvae of this species feed on flowers and developing seeds. Wow, a new insect for me!

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Looking around more, soon I found this tiny plant bug...

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... and an assassin bug waiting for a meal to come by...

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... and a tiny parasitic wasp. I wonder if the wasp was looking for fly larvae or for aphids to lay its eggs in?

I could go on, but I think you get my point. Although I could easily dismissed the plant as being empty on my first glance, this single bush harbored an entire food web. Undoubtedly, if I hadn't been there, the food web would have included birds and lizards that would have eaten some of the insects.

Have you ever had a similar experience investigating a plant?

4 thoughts on “Bug of the Week: Finding More

  1. sara

    So, so jealous, from the instant I read "beginning to feel like spring" onward. Nothing but white everywhere here in NJ; I'm afully tired of house spiders and stink bugs.

    How do you ID aphids? Do you have a book or website or anything? I've never gotten beyond "red aphids" "yellow aphids", etc.

    Wonderful collection of bugs. I particularly like your ovipositing fly. Our picture-winged flies generally look different, more stripy, and I would not have thought of them for this one, maybe going to marsh flies or something first (and this is why I find flies frustrating!)

    I'm starting to consider moving to the southwest....

  2. Roberta

    Sara,

    The grass is always greener on the other side, as they say. I was just enjoying someone's photographs of the snow. 🙂

    I learned some aphids from taking courses and some from books. Whitney Cranshaw's Pests of the West is helpful for this region, for example. You might try looking through the BugGuide website, too.

  3. Anna

    Great post! It's amazing all the critters native plants feed, and some people would consider the flower a weed. Thanks for the flowers. As the ground hog said last week, I've still got a few weeks of winter before I see flowers and get started on my garden.

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