Mystery Solved

In an earlier post I pondered what lay within a silky tent strung between segments of chicken wire. A butterfly larva? Or as one reader opined, perhaps a paralyzed caterpillar, soon to be devoured by a spider?

While I wasn’t looking, the caterpillar — which was very much alive and not on anyone’s menu — continued to spin its magic and metamorphosed into a shiny cocoon.

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Demise

 

Stop, sit, look is a mantra that serves me well.

I was huddled near the end of a rotting log when I spotted a brightly patterned bug just a few inches away. This was quickly followed by a good-grief-what-the-heck? moment when I realized it was “attached” to a large caterpillar. What followed next was fascinating.

The piercing mouthparts of this immature stink bug had seized hold of one of the caterpillar’s hind “legs” (known as prolegs to bugsters) and it was feeding on the still-living larva.

The caterpillar was strong. It pulled that stink bug several inches across the log face. Despite its best efforts, however, it couldn’t break free.

The stink bug’s grip was stronger. In fact, several times the caterpillar swung loose, dangling in air. The stink bug never lost its hold on the log or the larva.

Although the larva was still alive when I left, the end was inevitable — it was lunch on legs for this young spined soldier bug.

The spined soldier bug goes through 5 stages (instars, for the biologically inclined) between egg and adult. Each stage looks quite different than the others. Turns out I found the third instar.

If you’d like to see its life cycle in photos, check out this link at the University of Florida.


Spined soldier bug  Podisus maculiventris
Unidentified butterfly larva

One for the Books

It was a bizarre sight. If I was a tabloid writer I might have titled this piece “Mosquito Eats Caterpillar”.

Caterpillars appeared on the honeysuckle about the same time as the flower buds.

My early attempts to photograph the critters caught only the back end — the head was buried in the cluster of buds. In fact, to the casual observer they look surprisingly like the buds they dine on.

IMG_1917
Caterpillar on twining honeysuckle

When I finally found a caterpillar stretched along a thin branch I took several shots. About the third shot, “holy cow” blew past my lips.

Was that a mosquito?

Indeed it was. It had landed on the caterpillar and as I watched, it sank its sharp little proboscis down into the unsuspecting bud-eater.

The yin and yang of spring.

P.S. How rare is this? If you’re so inclined, you can dip into the research.