It’s a trap!


I was actually on the phone when I spotted this, and rudely begged off the call to go get my camera. Or at least, it might have been considered rude if I wasn’t conversing with another nature photographer; instead, I was encouraged not to waste time ;-)

Jagged ambush bugs (genus Phymata) are common throughout the US, but most people have no idea what they are, or look like. The flower seen here is about 35mm (1.5 inches) across, so the little green bugger could hide under a pea with room to spare – if you’re not looking close, you’re not going to notice it. This lack of attentiveness holds true for many different pollinating insects, which visit the flowers that serve as the favorite hunting grounds of ambush bugs, and thus transition to a different stage in the food chain. Ambush bugs are predatory and insectivorous, fitting in with mantises and spiders, and are quick to react when something comes near. I would have thought their camouflage would be a bit better than this, but I certainly couldn’t pass up this color palette, could I? This is most likely a nymph, based on the half-formed wings seen jutting from the midsection, with a splash of reddish-brown at the base.

It wasn’t long before my subject had taken its prey underneath the blossom and drained it of nourishment, using a piercing proboscis rather than eating its capture whole like a praying mantis. Then the carcass was discarded on the leaves below and the ambush bug took up a position under the flower to await further developments, as they say. You can see the mantis-like forelegs used to seize their food, and just barely make out the tucked-under proboscis (between “wrist” and “nose,” as it were.) The flower later shed its petals and began to look quite unappetizing, but my subject here remained in place for days.

And I realize, as I type this, that’s it’s going up alongside another nasty-looking bug photo in today’s National Geographic Photo of the Day widget on the sidebar. I’m sorry, I’ll try to find some fluffy bunnies for a future post…

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