Skip to content

4

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

brittle-bush-at-desert-breeze-1

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

brittlebush-flower-2

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.

brittlebush-honey-bee-3

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?

brittle-bush-honey-bee-4

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

brittle-bush-halictid-5

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

brittlebush-aphids-far-6

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

brittle-bush-aphids-close-8

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.

brittle-bush-picture-wing-fly-9

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.

picture-wing-fly-laying-eggs-really best

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!

brittle-bush-plant-bug

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

assassin-bug-on-brittle-bush-leaf-1

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

brittle-bush-clear-parasitic-wasp

... 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?

2

Our mystery seeds from last week were from brittlebush, Encelia farinosa.

Brittlebush is a common plant, native to the southwestern United States.

It has silvery green leaves and is covered with bright yellow flowers in the spring. It can reach five feet tall and forms a rounded mound. It is a perennial.

The "flowers" are actually daisy-like composites.

The intense yellow flowers produce clusters of seeds.

The brittlebush seeds in the photographs last week were not quite mature. Notice the mature seeds above are darker and filled out more. They still have the intriguing fringe, though.

Brittlebush grow readily from seeds.

Brittlebush flowers are visited by many insects, for example see these previous posts:  the elegant blister beetle on a brittlebush flower and another bee on brittlebush leaf.

In the past humans have used brittlebush resins as a form of chewing gum and for burning as incense.

Isn't it a beautiful and interesting plant?

Have you ever seen brittlebush in bloom?