Grass of Parnassus, also known as Bog-star, is a favorite flowering plant of mine for two reasons. One is because I enjoy saying its name — try it, it sounds quite regal. Secondly, the green lines, or bee guides, on the petals are a striking color which you don’t see all that often in flowers. Grass of Parnassus is in the Saxifrage family – not in the Grass family, as its name would imply. It typically grows in wet meadows. Apparently the name comes from ancient Greece; the cattle on Mount Parnassus ate this plant with relish, and thus it was deemed an “honorary grass.” (An Ambush Bug is perched on a petal, waiting and watching for prey.)
The Spined Soldier Bug is a predatory stink bug which preys on a variety of other insects (over 90 species), especially the larvae of butterflies, moths and beetles. It is one insect that farmers actually welcome, as it preys heavily on the larvae of the European corn borer, Mexican bean beetle, cabbage looper, Colorado potato beetle, flea beetles and many other crop pests. The adult Spined Soldier Bug has a prominent spine on each “shoulder.” It also has piercing-sucking mouthparts which it uses to impale prey and suck out their internal juices. The photograph shows a Spined Soldier Bug dining on the innards of a monarch caterpillar.
This time of year you can often find many orange and black bugs on milkweed leaves. If they are black with an orange “X” on their forewings, they are small milkweed bugs (Lygaeus kalmii). This combination of colors, which many insects that feed on milkweed have, warns predators that, due to ingesting milkweed toxins, red and orange insects may be bad for their health. Adult small milkweed bugs feed mainly on milkweed seeds, but they also consume the nectar of a variety of flowers. In addition, they occasionally prey on insects, such as the ant in the accompanying photograph.
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.