Wednesday, May 6, 2015

More than an itch, part one

For an insect, a bug bite is likely to be a life threatening affliction.  Although most of the creatures we think of as delivering "bug bites" are not true bugs (i.e., they do not belong to the order Hemiptera), there are several groups of predatory true bugs.  Given their name, it should come as no surprise that the assassin bugs are a prime example.

An adult milkweed assassin bug (Zelus longipes).
I frequently find assassin bugs on plant foliage, waiting in ambush.  More rarely, I see one that has had recent success in capturing a smaller insect to consume through its sharp, straw-like mouthparts.

A milkweed assassin bug nymph with its prey.
Flowers are also good locations to ambush insects, so when I started spotting milkweed assassin bugs on flowers, I initially assumed that they were waiting to catch unwary flower visitors.  However, the orange and black bugs were so conspicuous against the white petals that any insect landing on those flowers would have to be extremely unwary.  Then, I noticed that some of the flowers hosted not just one, but two assassin bugs -- making the chances of a successful ambush even slimmer.  Only once I was able to inspect the photographs did it become apparent that the assassin bugs had a different motivation for coming to the flowers.

The milkweed assassin bugs also seem to feed on flowers.
Instead of hunting insects attracted to the flowers' nectar, the assassin bugs appeared to be drinking the nectar themselves!