Foxes, bobcats, owls, all have been sighted at Mt. Pisgah, but they’re rare. Why not focus on an entire class of creatures you’re guaranteed to see every time you visit? They are diverse, visible year round, and unendingly fascinating. They are insects!
I plan to highlight some six-legged wonders on this blog every two weeks. I hope they’ll work their magic on some of you. There’s a wild and surprisingly beautiful safari to be experienced, if you slow down and observe.
This colorful little plant bug is easy to spot if you know where to look. The Tupiocoris californicus mirid has been crawling all over tarweed on the north end of the park for weeks. If you look closely, you’ll see these 3-4 millimeter true bugs wandering about on the stems.
As you might guess from the name, tarweed is a sticky-stalked flower. The yellow droplets on it smell and act like pine sap, and can gum things up like hair and camera lenses. Somehow, these little bugs don’t get caught up in it, and they thrive on tarweed stem juice.
Several entomologists have proposed that plant bugs and plants with sticky stalks have a mutually beneficial relationship. The Tupiocoris genus in particular is a specialist of sticky plants. Because it’s also an omnivore, the researchers say, it may help the plant by feeding on other, more plant-harming insects. The theory goes that the plant in turn helps the bug, by trapping other insects for the mirid to eat.
A note on the word “bug.” I’m not using it here like a generic synonym for insect, but as the scientific name for the order of insects called hemiptera, or “true bugs.” All hemipterans, including stink bugs, cicadas, and leafhoppers, have piercing mouthparts that they use either to kill and eat other insects or suck plant juice, or both. You can see this bug’s pointy proboscis in the second and third images. If you were the size of an aphid, you’d probably want to avoid that sharp spear … but the sticky footing might trap you.
Until next time,
“The Siren Song of a Sticky Plant,” LoPresti, Pearse and Charles, 2015. Accessed 8/10/20.
“Mirid: Specialists of Sticky Plants,” Wheeler and Krimmel, 2015. Accessed 8/10/20.