Saturday, March 26, 2011

Death among the flowers

Pollinators have such a glamorous job. They fly from flower to flower collecting golden pollen and sweet, delicious nectar. What could be better? Indeed it is a wonderful job; but just as there are snakes in paradise, there are hidden dangers among the lovely flowers. Life can be very cruel in the garden.

Ambush bugs have a very well deserved name. They wait in hiding among the flowers. Sometimes they are very hard to spot because they hide among the petals, only their alert eyes and antennae can be seen. Their sharp beaks, loaded with poison at the ready and their powerful front legs prepared to snap with vise like action.
Ambush bug, Phymata
One sunny day I was walking in the garden enjoying the comings and goings of diligent pollinators when I spotted this little killer, a jagged ambush bug. One look at its contours renders the name self explanatory. Perhaps the jagged shape makes it hard to swallow by would be predators. It also must help on disguising its appearance.

I snapped a couple of pictures and was about to move on when I saw a bumble bee land on the flower. The next few photos were taken less than a minute later and show the fate of the unfortunate bumble bee. Had it been more careful it would have escaped his fate. The amazing thing is that there was no struggle. The venom of the ambush bug must be so powerful and fast acting that it paralyzes a victim twice the size of the killer instantly.
Male two-spotted bumble bee, Bombus bimaculatus
Being a pollinator can be a hard life. But that is the way it is for everybody out there, including the killers.

Indeed, life and death go hand in hand in the garden.
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© Beatriz Moisset. 2012


  1. It would be great to know more about the timing of the arrival of pollinators that you observe for the Eastern Pennsylvania Phenology Project that we recently launched. You can see our blog at and learn more about the project at (the website is still a work in progress). This project is being done as part of an Audubon TogetherGreen Fellowship project, with the Lehigh Gap Nature Center (LGNC), the state parks and PA DCNR, and several other partners. Pollinators are of particular interest to the restoration work at the LGNC and our work with the USGS on native bee inventories.

  2. Sounds like a very ambitious project. It would be nice to narrow it down somewhat so data can be meaningful. For instance the bees at my bee houses emerged on April 1st in 2009 and on March 19 in 2010, coinciding with the first warm really spring day of the season. This year they are still sound asleep.
    I also could go through my photos of previous years and reconstruct the timing of some events. I confess that I have never been very good at keeping that kind of records, but that is the beauty of digital photography.

  3. In this pilot year, we are trying to get a sense of what people in eastern PA notice and what potential records exist (or should). So yes, it is a bit ambitious and unfocused at the moment, but my research students and I will go through the various inputs we receive and determine how to best narrow this to get meaningful information.

    But something as simple as when bees emerge from their houses each spring could be very interesting.