like clockwork

Yes, indeed… just like clockwork. Yesterday, June 21, 2007, I found the first Brown Mantidfly (Climaciella brunnea) of the summer (click on image for larger view). Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile may remember that I posted about these little creatures exactly one year ago today, after finding the first mantidfly of 2006 on June 21st. Isn’t that interesting? Don’t you just love seeing phenology in action?

If you’re not familiar with the term, phenology is the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena. Phenology is one of the areas that I’ve focussed on through my photography since I began somewhat diligently recording insect sightings in 2003. After only five years of this form of record-keeping, I’ve found that insects are generally quite dependable — often putting in their first appearance of the season within a very narrow time frame. That’s good news for the birds and other creatures that depend on insects for food. It’s good for the plants that depend on insects for pollination. It may well be good news to the organic gardener who is thrilled to find mobs of predaceous baby stink bugs dining on other vegetable-eating insects. And then, of course, there’s the much larger issue of tracking climate change. Plant bloom dates, arrival dates of insects, appearance of migratory birds, and a host of other natural phenomena can tell us a lot about what’s happening with the climate.

Now, about those predaceous stink bugs! As you may recall, back on June 7th, I photographed a stink bug in the process of laying her spiny silver eggs on a goldenrod leaf. On June 18th, I returned to that site to find that most of the eggs had hatched out into small stink bug nymphs. Whenever possible, I like to follow a story through to its conclusion, but in this case, I struck out. Search as I might over the next couple days, I couldn’t find any of these little fellows on the surrounding plants. Perhaps they wandered off, or perhaps another predatory insect came along and had stink bug nymphs for breakfast. It’s an insect eat insect world out there, so I’m never too surprised by that outcome.

However, in a not-so-distant area, I did find a young predaceous stink bug — perhaps even of the same species – dining on a Sharpshooter type leaf hopper a couple of mornings ago. I thought some of you might like to see how, even at such a tender age, these young insects are formidable and efficient hunters. For the next few weeks, these little bugs will patrol the leaves of plants and trees, dining on anything they can capture and eat, gradually growing and changing in appearance until they reach their adult form. I’ll encounter many dozens of them before the summer is done. And by the way, here we are, launching into the beginning of summer. I’m looking forward to many wonderful weeks of insect watching and photography. For me, the game has just begun. What’s on your agenda for the coming season? Any particular projects, plans or journeys?

Tags: , , , ,

  • Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Trackback URI:
  • Comments RSS 2.0

7 Responses to “like clockwork”

  1. robin andrea Says:

    When I look at the photo of the stinkbug eating the leafhopper, I am instantly reminded of how I perceived a scene such as this when I was young. I always thought how lucky the stinkbug was to have found this dead bug to eat. It never occurred to me that insects hunted each other. I love remembering such naivete.

    The concept of phenology is a thing of great beauty. I find deep satisfaction and reassurance in the cyclical and calendrical events in nature. There is an orderliness to the chaos.

    No big plans for the season, other than watching the garden grow, and getting the house ready to sell.

  2. bev Says:

    robin – that’s quite amusing about the stinkbug and its prey. When I was out with the students last month, a few of them didn’t realize that so many insects eat other insects (very few knew that Lady beetles are very good hunters).
    The longer you observe annual events that occur in nature, the more reassuring it seems. Five years is just a short time to have been watching this, and yet the cyclical patterns are already becoming apparent to me. Think how they must seem to someone watching them for a half a century (as many people have).
    So, it sounds as though you are planning to move forward and relocate. That seems like a good plan to me. The areas you are considering are beautiful and would be on my short list if it were at all possible for us to relocate there.

  3. Dave Says:

    Phenology? That mantidfly looks big enough to own a PDA methinks!

  4. DougT Says:

    An interesting experience with phenology from Chicago. A week ago I found a New England aster in full bloom. This is unbelieveably early. A few might start blooming by the very end of July here. This was a full month and a half ahead of schedule.

  5. bev Says:

    Dave – It does look big in the photo, but they’re quite small — perhaps about an inch long.

    Doug – Wow.. an New England aster in bloom in June! Yikes!

  6. Wayne Says:

    Bev – I’m still watching out for the first mantidfly but still haven’t seen one.

    What sort of environment have you found these in – shade, moist, sunny, dry?

  7. bev Says:

    Wayne – the most reliable place to find these is on milkweed when the flowers are in bloom and are sticky with nectar and pollen. That’s where I find most of them — they’re usually perched upside down, walking on the undersides of the leaves, or they’ll be walking on the flowers. We won’t have the right conditions for another week or so yet. I’ve also found these isolated ones before the main group of them, just along the trails in the poplar woods. They would be harder to find — I think it’s sort of freak luck that I’ve found the ones that I have — I do seem to notice very tiny things when I’m in the forest. Anyhow, I’d look around on milkweed if possible — it’s got to be when the flowers are at the right stage. I’ve never found the mantidflies on milkweed at other times. The “window of opportunity” seems to be about 2 or 3 days — that’s about the longest I’ve seen them there. Everything might be different down your way — it would be nice to find some records of mantidflies collected in Georgia to see where people found them. I should check What’s That Bug to see what people have written. That’s sometimes a good way to find out a bit about habitat and behaviour of certain insects as people often write a bit about how they found an insect and what it was doing. EDIT: I just checked out What’s That Bug, and almost all of the Mantidflies reported were found in or on buildings, inside garages or around windows, although I did see one photo of one that was clinging to a daisy. So! Maybe looking around buildings is the best bet.