Plants and insects go hand-in-hand, and many gardeners enjoy learning about all the little critters that share their garden. In honor of the important connection between plants and insects, we have a monthly feature for The Bug Chronicles here on Savvy Gardening. It’s called “Look What I Found!”, and it’s time to share this month’s featured insects.
To make this post, I go out into my garden with my iPhone in-hand and take pictures of the first five insects I can find. I post the pictures here the next day and provide some information about each of my discoveries. Sometimes I find very common bugs almost every gardener encounters on a regular basis, but other times I find insects I’ve never seen before. Below, you’ll find the five insects I found for this month’s post.
Now it’s your turn to head out into your own garden with a camera and snap a picture of the first bug you can find. Post your picture below, in the comment section of this post. I’ll do my best to try and identify the insect.
Here are my five bug photos for this month’s “Look What I Found!” feature:
1. Long legged fly: Dolichopus sp.
Long legged flies are ever-present in my garden. I see several dozen of them every day – a very good thing considering the adults are active predators of small garden pests, including thrips, aphids, and spider mites. These metallic flies come in a range of colors, but all are about 1/4 of an inch in length with long, stilt-like legs and bulging eyes. I often find them perched on leaves, preening themselves in the sun and waiting to capture their next victim.
2. Adult squash vine borer: Melitta curcurbitae
Anyone who has ever grown zucchini is probably already familiar with the larval stage of this insect. Known as squash vine borers, the chubby, cream-colored larvae of this daytime flying moth can quickly hollow out a squash vine and cause the plant to die. The adults are fast fliers so it’s difficult to spot them in the garden, but this one was resting on a sunflower leaf in the vegetable garden early yesterday morning. Adult borer moths are about 1/2 inch long with orange abdomens dotted with black. They spend the winter as pupae in the soil and emerge as adults in June and July.
3. Snowberry clearwing hummingbird moth: Hemaris diffinis
There are four different species of hummingbird moths in the U.S. and Canada, and the snowberry clearwing is quite common. Moving much like a hummingbird in flight, these daytime flying moths flit about the garden, drinking nectar with their long tongue. Measuring 1.25 to 2.0 inches long, adult hummingbird moths have a tail that opens into a fan shape and aids in flight maneuvers. The larvae feed on several species of honeysuckle, snowberry, hawthorn, cherry, and a few other host plants. I also find a closely related species, the hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe), in my garden quite often. This species is easily distinguished from the snowberry clearwing by its greenish colored head.
4. Spider wasp: Tachypompilus ferrugineus
Wow! I’ve seen these guys in my garden many, many times before but never bothered to properly ID them. I’m glad I did today because I learned something new. This big boy (or girl?) is a spider wasp. It’s at least 3/4 of an inch long. The body is rust colored and the wings are black with a purple sheen – what a beautiful insect! I learned that this species captures and kills wolf spiders. It then drags the body back to its nest and lays a single egg on the dead spider. The wasp larva feeds on the spider until it’s ready to pupate into an adult. Adult spider wasps feed on nectar from several plant families, including the carrot family (which would explain why I often find them on my dill). Such a great find!
5. Cuckoo wasp: Chrysis sp.
This beautiful, metallic insect is a cuckoo wasp. These fascinating wasps are parasites of other wasp or bee species and are a mere 1/4 inch long. Female cuckoo wasps sneak into the nest of host insects and lay eggs. As she enters the nest, she’s often “discovered” by the host insects and attacked. To protect herself, she curls into a tight ball and the host insect carries her out of the nest. Shortly after that, she uncurls herself and keeps trying to enter the nest until she’s successful. The cuckoo wasp larvae that hatch from the eggs she leaves behind consume the larvae of the host insect. Adult cuckoo wasps feed on nectar; I often find them on my dill and mountain mint.