take the great phymata challenge

We’re still putzing around home in the final few days of Don’s very abbreviated single-week holiday, so my posts will continue to be rather abbreviated as well. Today’s post leaves the “work” up to you. Let’s see how everyone does (now, don’t disappoint me by not giving this a try, okay?).

A couple of nights ago, I stopped to examine a very healthy looking Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) plant growing in one of our fields (see above photo). Of course, I was expecting to see something that the average person probably wouldn’t notice, and I was greatly rewarded. The plant — and I’m just showing you about a quarter of the flowertops — hosted a great number of Phymata (Ambush bugs) – a predacious insect that hides in flowers waiting to capture unwary bees, moths, wasps, flies or any other small creature that makes the mistake of stopping for a visit. The ones in the above photo are just young whipper-snappers like the one seen in this older photo (see below). I often see them working in groups to capture and hold down larger prey. If you want to see some nice close-ups of these insects, visit a couple of my posts about them from last summer here and here.

In summer, the blooms of yarrow and daisies are the favourite hangout for Phymata. As the insects mature, they will become white rather than green. However, later in the summer, I’ll see them mainly atop goldenrod, and they will be yellow. You can read all about this stuff in the above-linked posts from last summer.

However, for today, all I’m asking is that you look at the above photo to get some idea of what Phymata look like when you stop to examine a Yarrow plant. Then, click on the above photo and see a closer view of the flower and see if you can find a few of the Phymata hidden among the flowers. You’ll have to scroll around the page as I’ve left it quite large — larger than the screen on most computers. Let’s see how you do. Post your guess in the comments below. I’ve made up a version of the photo with all of the Phymata that I can see circled in pink. I was going to post a link to it today, but maybe I’ll wait to see how everyone does with this puzzle. I’ll post the photo later this weekend. So, c’mon. Give it a try. Then go out and give it a try in a meadow near you. If you’ve never seen a Phymata before, you’ll be amazed at how you could have missed seeing these little fellows when they’re all over the place — at least in many areas of North America.

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19 Responses to “take the great phymata challenge”

  1. Patrick Says:

    That last pic is sweet. I think I see 12.

  2. kenju Says:

    I saw at least 8 of them, maybe more.

  3. Susannah Says:

    I count 13 or 14. (In one case, I’m not sure whether I’m counting one bug or two.)

  4. am Says:

    I love the phymata portrait. Amazing. 16?

  5. Kathi Says:

    My guess was 11, but it looks like I must have missed a few, going by the other guesses. How fun! I am going out in the field on Saturday, and can’t wait to look for Ambush bugs!


  6. Wren Says:

    Nor only had I not seen them previously, I hadn’t even heard of them. I counted 9.

  7. Steve Says:

    I see 11 for sure. 4 in the left inflorescence (one from the tail on, a back leg hooked over the flower), 3 in the center inflorescence (though I can’t quite tell if the top two green shapes are insects or sepals – but I’m going to say sepals), 1 in the small lower right inflorescence (mostly front legs visible for that one – great position for catching prey), and 3 in the upper right inflorescence. I’ve never seen this many in one place.

  8. bev Says:

    Hey everyone! It’s great to see so many answers already! Everyone else, give it a try and post your best guess. I’ll give my own count sometime tomorrow… not that we should consider my count definitive! (-:

  9. Kathy Larsen Says:

    I think I see 16. I have never seen these insects before. Are they found in Washington state?

  10. Ontario Wanderer Says:

    I didn’t bother to count yours but I was looking yesterday at our yarrow plants and I think at least 80% of the plants I looked at had one or more ambush bugs. Only one had a moth and several others had some small insects that I did not recognize. Are there perhaps more ambush bugs than usual this summer or am I just looking more?

  11. Karen Says:

    I counted 8, but it was difficult to tell if some of the other green areas were bugs or part of the plant. I guess that is kind of the idea. :)

    I don’t have yarrow here but have seen the Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata erosa) on daisies. They tend to want to hide when I try to get a closer look though.

    I really love your close-up shots!

  12. Wayne Says:

    OK – I saw 8 for sure, but possibly as many as 10. Quite a nice montage of bugs!

    BTW – I notice your yarrow isn’t the yellow yarrow of the wildtype. Is it by chance rather low to the ground, with even more delicate, fernier leaves than the wildtype?

    If so, it might be Oertel Rose. The legend is that a the father of a friend of mine, Leila Oertel, mowed his wildtype yarrow over and over for many years (I guess he didn’t like yarrow). Out of that unintended selection, a mutant emerged that was short and had pale flowers. He noticed this and the rest was history. Whether true or not I cannot say – Leila has a way of making things up, but Oertel is not a common name!

  13. bev Says:

    Kathy – My guess is that you probably have them in Washington. I found one with a Skipper butterfly on top of some sagebrush in the John Day Fossil Beds region when I was out in Oregon in September 2006, so they are definitely in the west. I just did some checking around online and found a Canadian study on True Bugs of the Yukon that includes a chart showing distribution of the various Hemiptera families, and shows there being one species of Phymatidae in British Columbia. I’d say that, if there are Phymata in BC and Oregon, they must be in Washington state as well. Also, here’s a sort of rough range map for the Jagged Ambush Bug based on photos that have been submitted to the Bugguide.net websit up until now. As you can see, Oregon and Washington don’t have reports as yet, but California does, which makes me think it likely that they are west of the Rockies, but just haven’t been photographed by any of the contributors. Bugguide maps are quite useful, but I’ve found that the west is less well represented. My guess is that there just aren’t as many keen insect photographers out west as yet — that will probably change — so species records aren’t as complete for the western states. Anyhow, if you have Yarrow in your area, check them out for Phymata. Later in the summer, they will be found on Goldenrod (solidago). I guess they are found on sagebrush as well in the dry regions where it grows (based on my own discovery). They’re not so easy to see, but once you get the hang of finding them, you’ll run into them everywhere. One thing to watch for is winged insects on flowers — ones that don’t move when you approach. If you investigate, there’s a good chance that you’ll find either an Ambush Bug (Phymata), and Assassin Bug (Reduviidae), or one of the flower crab spiders holding a dead moth, bee, fly, etc… That’s how I look for adult Ambush bugs in the autumn.

    OW – It seems like about an average year for Phymata around here, so it may just be that you’re watching more closely. I see them just about everywhere I go (see my note about finding one while walking along a trail at John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon last autumn).

    Karen – Yes, some of the green parts in that photo are actually parts of flowers. I’ll post a photo with all of the Phymata that I can see later on today. I may have missed a couple myself! Glad you enjoyed the close-up photos! (-:

    Wayne – This was a very nice collection of these little bugs. If I could show the whole flower (not really practical), it was quite an impressive sight. Lots of bugs! The white Yarrow we have up here is pretty much the only kind we see growing wild. Any yellow I see is usually one of the garden species such as Cloth of Gold, which I used to grow in my herb gardens here at the farm. These are usually fairly tall — above knee height, and they grow just about everywhere in oldfields and roadsides. I didn’t really know there was a wild yellow form, so there you go — it may be a regional thing.

  14. robin andrea Says:

    My laptop screen is too small to count them, and when I enlarge the picture I have to scroll and then I forget which ones I’ve counted already. We have yellow yarrow growing in the yard right now. Maybe the phymata will be in their yellow stage out there. I’ll see what I can go find.

  15. neil Says:

    I’m getting 11 too, but I’d guess that I missed some. I’m gonna go scour the yarrow in my neighborhood right now.

  16. Larry Ayers Says:

    I counted eleven that I was reasonably sure of.

    Our yarrow is always white-flowered, though I see yellow cultivars in yards and gardens.

    Now I need to go out and see what beasties might be lurking in local yarrow-patches!

  17. Susan Gets Native Says:

    I counted 10. And they are cute, in a buggy sort of way.
    Love your macro!

  18. Cathy Says:

    Bev – I’ve missed so much. This is just extraordinary. I won’t be happy till I’ve found and explored a yarrow plant.

  19. bev Says:

    Cathy – Good to see you! Yes, get out there and look around for some phymata. Around my place, it seems like most of the phymata have now abandoned the yarrow and moved on to the Queen Anne’s Lace and a few to the Black-eyed Susans. They go to wherever the pollen attracts the greatest number of insects.