Today is overcast and windy, and most insects are settled in for the day. When I went out to search for the bug of the week, I was lucky to find this large insect resting on our milkweed plant. Being cloudy with gusty winds, it wasn’t easy getting a photo that was in focus. Here’s my best shot.
Check out the beautiful orange colors on the wings and the spiny legs. If you don’t recognize it, this is a tarantula hawk wasp. Belonging to the family of wasps known as the spider wasps, the tarantula hawk female searches for large spiders. When she finds one, she stings it and then drags it to a burrow she has prepared. Inside the burrow, the wasp lays eggs on the spider. The spider is still alive, but paralyzed. Over time it becomes baby wasp lunch.
Now take a look a something else. Can you see the yellow bit hanging from one of its feet? It isn’t in focus, so it may not look like much.
Here is a photo of another tarantula hawk wasp I took last year. Maybe you can see the bright yellow bits on the tips of its front legs more clearly. They are in pairs, and curve sort of like tiny maple keys.
The tarantula hawk has a special relationship with the desert milkweed plant. Its slender legs fit into special grooves in the flower while it is drinking nectar. The grooves contain bundles of pollen called pollinia. The pollinia catch on the wasp’s legs. When the wasp flies to another milkweed plant, the pollen is transferred and the plant is pollinated.
If you look closely at this wasp you might be able to see the mud on its body where it has been digging its burrow, or perhaps from when it emerged from the burrow its mom built.
For some live action videos, go to You Tube and search for tarantula hawk wasp. In one video, tarantula hawk wasp vs. wolf spider, you can see a wasp trying to drag its spider back to its burrow. Now, that is quite a sight!
Believe it or not, flies are not my favorite insects, but there is an abundance of them in my garden right now. Do I have garbage out there? No, some very unusual flowers are attracting the flies, like the flower shown here. If you were sitting where I was to take this photo, you would think there was a garbage pile nearby. The odor was quite unpleasant.
This plant is a succulent in the genus Euphorbia. The plant deceives carrion and dung flies by producing odors that mimic decay. The flies are expecting to find some yummy rotting flesh or droppings to eat and lay their eggs on, but instead only find a devious plant.
Here is a fly that has been tricked:
As it turns out, another similar plant is also flowering in my yard this week. This plant has bizarre red, star-shaped flowers. It is called Stapelia. It also mimics carrion.
Here is a green bottle fly that has been fooled. I have often seen thin white eggs in the centers of the Stapelia flower, laid by confused flies.
Take a look at this close up. You can see the pollen on the bottle fly’s thorax (behind the head). These plants are misleading the flies in order to be pollinated, and it seems to be working.
Carrion-mimicking flowers can go to real extremes to attract their pollinators. Two of the largest flowers in the world are big stinkers. The Rafflesia flower can be three feet wide, making it the biggest flower. The titan arum is definitely the tallest, reaching up to seven feet! Check the Library of Congress for some amazing pictures.
Hopefully the backyard jungle will smell better next week.
Just went out to check the aphids on the asparagus fern from last week. As I predicted, the aphids have virtually disappeared. I saw a few at the very tips of a couple of plant stems.
Insects have definite seasons and cycles, and it is worthwhile to pay attention to them. It can save you money, time and effort if you realize the pests are going to go away on their own.
Ants are particularly known for this. I think one reason there are so many wacky home remedies for ants is because people do something and when they check again, the ants are gone. The thing is, ants are highly mobile and it is likely they would have moved even if the homeowner had done nothing. (That isn't to say there aren't some useful home remedies, because there are.) When it comes to insects, being a procrastinator can really pay off.