It was a tough day for a Tettigoniid on a Tithonia.
When a katydid (Tettigoniid) encountered a crab spider on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola, in our garden, the katydid didn't last long. The spider administered a venomous bite and it was all over. The small, aggressive predator dragged its large prey beneath the Mexican sunflower to consume its meal. The cycle of life...
Do you know how katydids got their nickname?
The males have stridulating organs on their forewings and produce a shrill sound interpreted as “Katy-did, Katy-didn't."
Well, in this case the crab spider did (survive to live another day) and the katydid didn't.
Oh, the patience of a crab spider.
It lies in wait on the Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola, in the hot sun.
It scuttles back and forth, extending its legs. It's an ambush predator, ready to inject venom.
But it seems as if all the bees got the memo: "Crab spider! Beware! Don't buzz it! Don't go near it!"
And then a honey bee, seeking a little nectar and pollen, lands right beside it.
It's a moment in time between a predator and its prey.
The bee? It survived to live another day. The crab spider went hungry.
Just a morning in the life of a crab spider lying in wait on a Tithonia rotundifola.
No assassinations today! But an "assassination attempt."
There it was, a leafhopper assassin bug, Zelus renardii, waiting for prey atop a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola in a Vacaville pollinator garden. Yes, it's native to North America.
The assassin bugs, family Reduviidae, are ambush predators. When they ambush a predator, they stab it with their rostrum, inject venom, and suck out the juices. Or as UC Berkeley entomologists Jerry Powell and Charles Hogue write in their book, California Insects, "The victims, which include all kinds of insects, are snatched by quick movements of the forelegs, and immediately subdued by a powerful venom injected through the beak."
UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) says that "Assassin bug adults and nymphs (immatures) have an elongate head and body and long legs. The narrow head has rounded, beady eyes and long, hinged, needlelike mouthparts. Adults and nymphs can walk rapidly when disturbed or capturing prey. Adults tend not to fly."
"Assassin bugs can occur on almost any terrestrial plant including row and tree crops and gardens and landscapes. All species are predators of invertebrates or true parasites of vertebrates," UC IPM relates. "Most assassin bugs feed on insects including caterpillars, larvae of leaf beetles and sawflies, and adults and nymphs of other true bugs. Nymphs and adults ambush or stalk prey, impale them with their tubular mouthparts, inject venom, and suck the body contents. Zelus renardii produces a sticky material that helps it adhere to plant surfaces and ensnare prey."
Some 7000 species of assassin bugs reside throughout the world. When they feed on such agricultural pests as fleahoppers, lygus bugs, aphids, caterpillar eggs and larvae, they are considered biological control agents.
However, "assassin bugs are not considered to be important in the biological control of pests, unlike predatory groups such as bigeyed bugs and minute pirate bugs," UC IPM says. "Assassin bugs are general predators and also feed on bees, lacewings, lady beetles, and other beneficial species. Certain species feed on the blood of birds, mammals, or reptiles, including conenose bugs and kissing bugs (Reduviidae: Triatominae)."
The one we saw today?
A long-horned bee, Melissodes agilis, stopped for a sip of nectar, spotted the assassin bug, and buzzed off, leaving only its shadow behind.
Who doesn't love jumping spiders?
They're adorable. No? Well, they are to arthropod enthusiasts, but not so much to their prey.
This one (probably a Phidippus audax, a Bold Jumper) was moving slowly and unobtrusively up a shadowed Vacaville stucco wall on the morning of Jan. 2.
It may have been hunting for prey or simply seeking some sun.
The jumping spider, family Salticidae, is a thing of beauty, but to some folks it's a thing of fright.
Did you catch science writer James Gorman's article on How the Jumping Spider Sees Its Prey in the Nov. 6, 2018 edition of The New York Times?
"If you love spiders, you will really love jumping spiders," Gordon began, humorously adding that "If you hate spiders, try reading this article on dandelions."
"O.K., if you're still here, jumping spiders are predators that stalk their prey and leap on them, like a cat. They are smart, agile and have terrific eyesight."
Gorman pointed out that "It has been clear for a long time that their vision is critical to the way they hunt, and to the accuracy of their leaps. But a lot has remained unknown about the way their eyes work together." He then detailed the newly published research on spider vision by Elizabeth Jakob of the University of Massachusetts and her colleagues.
"Jumping spiders have eight eyes," Gorman gently reminded his readers (who were probably already reading about dandelions). "Two big eyes, right in the center of what you might call the spider's forehead, are the principal ones, and they pick up detail and color. Of the other three pairs, a rear set looks backward, a middle set is as yet a bit of a mystery, and the foremost detect motion."
The spider we saw on the stucco wall certainly detected our motion.
Somewhat like the phrase attributed to Julius Cesar's "I came, I saw, I conquered," our spider "came, jumped and vanished."
And no, I'm not going to read that article on dandelions.
The spider failed to snag a butterfly, so it went for Plan Bee.
That would be the honey bee, Apis mellifera.
The bee is usually foraging for nectar and pollen and not that aware of her surroundings, especially a cunning and very hungry spider.
So this orbweaver lies in wait for prey to appear on its "dinner plate." A venomous bite and the bee is paralyzed. And dinner is served à la carte.
It's not what Ernest Hemingway would call a pretty sight. But then again, everything eats in the garden.
Repeat: Everything eats in the garden whether we want it to or not.