A Voracious Aphid Lion

A hungry aphid lion plucks a milkweed aphid from the herd

A few weeks ago the first Aphis nerii of the season showed up in our little prairie garden. These little orange globes multiplied to plague proportions within days. The butterfly weed was hit hard, dropping its plumes of orange flowers and withering.

The bounty of aphids didn’t go unnoticed for long. Lots of insects eat aphids, and before long the rows of aphids had succumbed to the developing larvae of aphid wasps, turning to hardened brown mummies. Armies of furry aphid lions appeared- larvae of the common green lacewings that frequent porch lights*- to pick among the survivors.

Aphid lions are particularly effective predators, perhaps more so than the ladybirds and preying mantids more commonly marketed as garden beneficials. Their mouthparts are elongated into sharp hollow needles that quickly pierce their prey and drain them dry within minutes.

The long jaws of aphid lions are hollow, allowing them to suck up the juices of their hapless prey

*Lacewings also visit bug zappers, unfortunately. Do you know what doesn’t visit bug zappers? Mosquitoes. You’re an idiot if you use those things, as bug zappers have a high kill rate against friendly insects while doing nothing against the most common biting insects.

Location, location, location

Widow spider and harvester ants. Hallelujah Junction, California

This young black widow (Latrodectus hesperus) set up shop above the nest entrance of a colony of Pogonomyrmex harvester ants.  It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet, allowing the spider nearly unlimited pickings as the ants come and go.

The spider’s mottled coloration is typical of young widows; they don’t acquire the striking black and red warning garb until maturity.

photo details: Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens on a Canon EOS D60
ISO 100, 1/200 sec, f/11, MT-24EX twin flash

Great to meet you, too.

A perpetually happy Venezuelan Leptogenys

We don’t really know why some species of Leptogenys hunting ants sport a permanent grin. The oddly ecstatic mandible shape might, however, have something to do with handling the broadly curved exoskeleton of their preferred prey: isopods (the sow bugs and pill bugs).

Flickr user “venwu225” recently uploaded a fantastic series of the related species L. falcigera in action. Some of the shots show how the mandibles allow the ant to grip the isopod both above and below its wide skirt of armor. Cool stuff.

photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon 20D
ISO 100, f/13, 1/250 sec, flash diffused through tracing paper