Over the weekend, I was doing a little yard work and walked down to check out the mammoth sunflowers I’d planted along the sidewalk near the garden. Their massive heads drooped over, and stared down at the ground as the hundreds of seeds they held continued to ripen. The dark gray and white stripes were unmistakable behind the withering yellow florets. As were the black and yellow spotted cucumber beetles crawling across the sunflower, eating away at the seeds.

I sighed… “Next year I’ll find a way to control those darn things so the sunflower seeds will stand a chance…but a natural way, nothing toxic or chemical. Hmmm…I wonder if a lady bug would eat a cucumber beetle. 😁”

I walked over to the last two drooping sunflowers. I planted these later in the season, so they were smaller than the others, which had easily grown to 9 feet. I had to bend over in order to see into the shorter flowers’ faces. Just as I began to marvel at the seeds (and curse the beetles), I realized I was not alone…the sunflower had a visitor, one that looked as if it had come from another galaxy.

Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus)

This is only the second Wheel Bug I’ve seen in nature…the first was a bit larger and much scarier looking. It’s a member of the Reduviidae family which consists of “assassin bugs” —  a cool sounding name that personally brings to mind visions of Starship Troopers.

Looks pretty similar, right?!

I was careful to keep some distance between it and my lens, as I vaguely remembered reading that its bite could be more painful than a wasp sting. (I can attest that wasp stings hurt REALLY bad for a LONG time!) I was feeling a little anxious that I might be irritating this creepy creature (I swear I could see those eyes following my every move!), so I only took a few quick snaps before heading inside to Google its background.

“Wheel bugs initiate predation by gripping and pinning their prey with their forelegs. The bug plunges its beak into its victim, pinning its prey with its front legs. It then injects enzymes into the victim, paralyzing it and dissolving its insides, and proceeds to drain the resulting fluids.”  Wiki: Wheel Bug

That sounds like a rather unpleasant way to go! I exhaled, feeling very glad I’d chosen not to eat while I researched this critter and began uploading my shots to my laptop. I started flipping through the pictures, thinking what a brutal little beast this was, and then I saw it…

… tucked under his leg …  

… a cucumber beetle … 

 

“The Paradox of Sustenance:
For an organism’s life to be continued;
another organism’s life has to be discontinued.”
Mokokoma Mokhonoana

I plan to assemble next year’s garden to invite in a bountiful, balanced ecosystem of beneficial insects like these…with the tripod at the ready, for the next round of Mother Nature’s Battle Royale. 🐞 🥊 🐛

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