Ambush bugs, assassin bugs, leaf-footed bugs and stink bugs are in the order Hemiptera – they are true bugs. Although all insects are often referred to as “bugs,” technically, only insects in this order are considered and referred to as bugs by entomologists. All true bugs have piercing and sucking mouthparts, and wings which are membranous and clear at the tips, but hardened at the base. Ambush bugs are actually a type of assassin bug, most of which are predators. Ambush bugs are usually brightly colored (yellow, red or orange) and they also have thickened front legs, resembling those of praying mantises, which are used to capture prey. If you carefully examine goldenrod flowers, you will probably find some well-camouflaged ambush bugs, waiting motionless for prey to come to them. Thanks in part to their impressive front legs, they are capable of capturing prey ten times their own size. At this time of year you can also find mating pairs, as in this photograph.
During the recent hot weather, male cicada courtship calls were much in evidence (among the loudest of all insect songs). Although we hear cicadas constantly, it’s unusual to actually see one, as they are usually way up in the canopy. What we do find, however, are remnants of their immature, or nymph, stage. When they molt their skin for the final time, cicada nymphs come up out of the ground where they’ve been living and climb up the stem of a plant or a tree trunk, where they split their skin and emerge as winged adults. Their skin remains on the vegetation, and a close look at it reveals that during their nymph stage, their front legs are extremely large. These appendages serve as efficient shovels for digging, which young cicada nymphs do a lot of, as they live anywhere from one to eight feet down in the ground, feeding on the sap in roots. While adult cicadas also feed on sap, they do so above ground, which is evident from their slender front legs.
Creeping snowberry’s name says it all. This perennial plant can be found growing in acidic soil, creeping along the forest floor, sometimes forming an expansive carpet of greenery. Tucked amongst its tiny leaves this time of year are snow-white berries which developed from greenish-white flowers. Both the leaves and the berries smell mildly like wintergreen. Creeping snowberry belongs in the Heath family, along with blueberries, huckleberries and cranberries. In fact, other than the bristles on the underside of its leaves, the leaves of creeping snowberry could easily be mistaken for small cranberry. The fruit is actually edible (it also tastes a bit like winterberry), but you will have to compete with deer, hares, grouse, robins and bears for it.