Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pollinator Drama on A Floral Stage

This is an interesting photo that I took of a four-way biological drama taking place on the flat stage of a Queen Anne's Lace flower head.

The most obvious player is the curved, black-and-yellow body of a potter wasp, one of the Eumeninae (Vespidae) and possibly Ancistrocerus albophaleratus. So obvious in fact that this insect is the thing that attracted my attention in the first place. These wasps are enthusiastic flower visitors, a habit that was the undoing of this particular individual.

But this one was strangely still. Usually they flit away once you get the camera lens too close. Actually the wasp you see here is now only a corpse. She was killed in the course of her visit to the flower in search of nectar.

It turns out that the killer is in the photo too. Just to the left of the wasp you should be able to make out the vertically oriented body of a Jagged Ambush Bug (Hemiptera, Phymata sp.). These consummate hunters spend most of their time on flowers too, their mottled black and greenish-white coloration serving as effective camouflage. When an unsuspecting pollinator ventures too close, the bug lashes out with powerful, raptorial forelegs and quickly dispatches its prey.

So the flower provides the stage for the story of life-and-death involving the bug and the wasp. But what of the fourth player in our little drama?

Perched on the thorax of the wasp you should just be able to make out a small fly. What role does this new character play in the drama? Hard to say. Could it she be a parasitic female that has come to lay her eggs on the wasp, hopeful she has found a good meal for her offspring? I don't know.

But I do know that an awful lot of biology goes on in the wildflowers that surround us each summer. Yet another excellent reason for preserving habitat for all of these species.

[Photo (c) D. Barr]


  1. There is plenty of drama in an ordinary patch of flowers if one bothers to look. Once, I saw a mason bee walk all over an ambush bug and escape unscathed. I had just seen that same ambush bug dropping a dried up fly. It wasn't hungry after such a meal. Lucky bee!

  2. Much thanks, Beatriz, for adding another chapter. Lucky us that you were there to watch :)



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