Our front yard has lost its lawn, piece by piece, in favor of more and more flowers. We have become an arthropod haven and refueling station for every bee, butterfly and hummingbird in the neighborhood. Pollinators need a little sanctuary from your basic urban/suburban food desert. And beneficial predatory insects and arachnids need a little love, too.
They also need a quiet place to breed.
A favorite predator of mine is Arilus cristatus, a.k.a. Wheelbug, the biggest assassin bug (family Reduviidae) in North America, 1 1/2″, gray and black. The deadly beak folds out, stiletto-like, to plunge into insects and suck them dry. They can inflict a bite- don’t try to pick one up- but they are marvels to watch. The cog-wheel projection on their back just adds to their steam-punk clockwork appearance.
I have wheelbugs in my garden and have observed the gritty details of their hemipteran consumation twice now (see video below and drawing above); both times the female fed on a bee during the act, a gift from the male (I assume), who wanted to get through their date without being eaten himself. While she fed he clung to her back, away from the vicious beak. Once the bee was sucked dry, she worked hard to ditch the mounted male. He hung on like a cowboy on a brahma bull.
I have to say that, when their cog-wheels didn’t interlink and spin, I was pretty let down. Why else have such a structure? (By the way, there’s a recent discovery of a real, functional cogwheel in another insect. It’s awesome).
They continued mating in the blue mist shrub until after dark, so I didn’t see how it turned out, but here’s my best guess: once I’d left, the gears clicked together and slowly rotated, transforming the two lovers into a tiny Chevy Malibu.
* the original title of this post may or may not have caused it to be blocked due to its straight-forward wording. Biology is a straight-forward business. Apologies all around for the error.