Some Serendipitous Sightings

Top Photo: Monarch butterfly caterpillar on butterflyweed.

While searching for harvester caterpillars on alder in the Wetlands I came across an assassin bug on one of the leaves. The bug was just about 3/4 inches (the body) and mostly green with brown on the back.

Assassin bug (Zelus luridus) waits for unsuspecting prey to happen along.
Assassin bug (Zelus luridus) waits for unsuspecting prey to happen along.
Note the spikes on each "shoulder."
Note the spikes, one on each “shoulder.”

Assassin bugs typically station themselves at a location which is busy with insects to wait and pounce on prey. They poke the prey with their long proboscis and suck them dry. An alder with aphids dripping down honeydew is a good place to wait for prey, the sweet honeydew attracts all manner of insects to the plant.

Also on the alder, I spotted a plant hopper. It looks to be Acanalonia conica. Conica refers to the pointed head on this aproximately 1/4″ hopper.

"Cone head" plant hopper.
“Cone head” plant hopper.

While at the alder I took a few close-ups of the harvester caterpillars eating the aphids.

Ctaerpillar and aphids. Note the two clear, spherical drops of honeydew, one near the caterpillar's head, the other close to the bottom right of photo.
Caterpillar and aphids. Note the two clear, spherical drops of honeydew, one near the caterpillar’s head, the other close to the bottom right of photo.

Next, a brief quiz. Can you identify the subject of the next photo?

Answer given below.
Answer given below.

While having a look at the Joe Pye weed out in front of the Butterfly House I happened to spot a Carolina mantid on the already gone by NY ironweed which stands right next to Joe Pye.

Quite a bit smaller than the preying, or Chinese, mantid the Carolina is our native species.

This carolina mantid blends in quite well with the spent flowers on ironweed.
This Carolina mantid blends in well with the spent flowers and leaves of ironweed.

Well camouflaged against its background, these mantids, like the assassin bug above, wait in ambush for prey to come within striking distance. The mantids reach out with their long forelegs (arms), which are normally kept folded and ready to spring into action, and snatch up their prey. Once in the grip of the mantid, struggling is useless, lights out for the victim.

If you grow tomatoes you’ve probably seen our next creature feature, a tobacco hornworm, or Carolina sphinx (Manduca sexta). The one in the photo has been host to some unwanted guests.

Tobacco hornworm with wasp pupae hanging from its green skin.
Tobacco hornworm with wasp pupae hanging from its green skin.

The white objects are brachonid wasp pupae, little cocoons each with a wasp pupa inside. They are about 1/4 inch long.

An adult wasp, also very small, inserts her ovipositor into the caterpillar and deposits eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the caterpillar from within. When they’ve fed sufficiently to pupate, they crawl out through the caterpillar’s skin and spin a cocoon around themselves. A metamorphosis into adulthood takes place within the cocoon. Each, now adult, wasp chews the tip off of the cocoon, leaving only a few threads as a hinge, crawls out, preens, and takes off into the new world.

On Thursday morning (8/28) I saw three juvenile gray tree frogs on the smartweed at the end of the boardwalk in Explore the Wild. This is the highest count of these fingernail-sized juveniles so far this season.

Not easy to pick out among the green leaves, this gray tree frog is one of three seen on 28 August in the Wetlands.
Not easy to pick out among the green leaves, this gray tree frog is one of three seen on 28 August in the Wetlands.
About the size of a fingernail these newly morphed frogs blend in well with their surroundings
About the size of a fingernail these newly morphed frogs blend in well with their surroundings.
The tail of the "tadpole" is still in evidence on this young frog.
The tail of the “tadpole” is still in evidence on this young frog.

Also on the smartweed, I spotted a small beetle, a flea beetle. It looks to be a Pennsylvania flea beetle (Disonycha pensylvanica). Since, according to what I’ve read about them, these flea beetles dine on smartweed, I would say my ID is correct.

Pennsylvania flea beetle on smartweed.
Pennsylvania flea beetle on smartweed.

There’s plenty to see out there in Explore the Wild and Catch the Wind. If you enjoy looking at and experiencing nature, take a walk through and see what you can find for yourself.

Have fun!

Oh yeah, the answer to the photo quiz above: the ripening fruit of dwarf sumac.

 

2 responses to Some Serendipitous Sightings

    • Greg Dodge
      Greg Dodge says:

      The wasp’s larvae eat the caterpillar from within. So yes, eventually the caterpillar dies. It’s usually alive at the time the wasps finally emerge from their cocoons, which in itself is apparently not a pleasant experience for the caterpillar, they seem to writhe with pain as the wasps emerge. Typically, all that’s left of the caterpillar is a shrunken mass hanging from the stem of the plant.
      Thanks,

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