Tuesday, October 8, 2013
A ruthless killer battles fearsome parasitoids (and will probably lose)
The attendant loss of biodiversity - the plants and animals that make the world go 'round - is staggering. And most of it is completely and utterly unnecessary.
Major thanks go to Bob Kehres of Ohio Prairie Nursery for providing the seed, and all manner of expertise to help us get our prairie out of the ground.
The photo above shows a Yellow-collared Scape Moth, Cisseps fulvicollis, plundering nectar from a black-eyed susan. I made this image, and those that follow, this afternoon.
RIGHT HERE. Once again, I was surprised at just how rapidly these interesting insects found and colonized the brand spanking new prairie.
Anyway, sorry for the above deviations into turf grass bashing. It is this ambush bug, which I think may be Phymata fasciata (ID corrections always appreciated!), that I really want to discuss.
This is all cool enough, but WAIT! A third insect lurks, to the right of the drama, on the ray flowers of the fleabane. It is truly tiny - so small that I didn't notice it in the field as I fixated on capturing images of the ambush bug. It wasn't until I downloaded the pictures and reviewed them that I saw the six-legged third wheel.
Who is it, and what might it be doing? My first thought was that it is a fly, and was perhaps waiting for an opportunity to drop its eggs on the fly carcass. Maybe its larvae would use that as a host. Those thoughts were quickly dispelled with a closer look - the elfin onlooker is actually a wasp!
Now that its identity (I think) has been established as a wasp, it's a bit easier to speculate about what is going on. The world is full of tiny parasitoid wasps that lay their eggs on all manner of insect hosts, and I figured that's what this wasp was scheming to do. A bit of searching around revealed a wasp known as Telenomus phymatae, and I wonder if that's this critter. It is a parasitoid of jagged ambush bugs, but not the adults. It seeks out freshly laid eggs of the ambush bug, and injects its eggs into the ambush bug eggs. The wasp grubs hatch first, within the host eggs, and eat them. So, if the wasp is indeed Telenomus phymatae, it is probably loitering around the ambush bugs awaiting the deposition of some eggs. Ironically, the tachinid fly is also a parasitoid, laying its eggs on some insect victim. What goes around comes around, and we've got a lot of paybacks being dealt out in this photo.
The overarching message of this post is this: plant diversity, especially native plants, spawns extraordinary animal diversity. Even right under our noses, in highly urbanized landscapes, in prairies that were planted only four and a half months ago.
GO NATIVE, and be sure to attend the 2014 Midwest Native Plant Conference.
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