Ambush Bug

2022 September 25

Sam found this fine specimen between classes at school. She went so far as to put it in a paper bag with some bits of greenery, and carried it around all day so she could bring it home. And I am very glad she did, because this is the first one of these I have ever seen. It is one of the Jagged Ambush Bugs, genus Phymata.

These are clearly predatory, as you can tell by their “raptorial forelegs”, similar to what one sees on a praying mantis. These are excellent for quickly grabbing onto small prey items, which is why this type of foreleg has evolved independently in multiple species of insects.

We can also see that it has the heavy piercing-sucking proboscis folded under its head, that looks pretty much like the proboscis of every other predatory true bug I have photographed.

When I flipped it over on its back in a smooth ceramic dish, it had a hard time flipping back over, so I got a few good pictures of the underside.

It even spread its wings and started buzzing, making it spin rapidly but not flip over. Luckily my camera shutter speed was high enough that I could still get pictures while it was moving.

So just to be clear, I am pretty sure that the reason I have never seen an ambush bug before is not because they are rare. It’s because they are very well camouflaged, and so even though I might have looked at them before, I never actually saw them. They like to hang out around flowers and pounce on the insects that come around to pollinate them, and their rough surface breaks up their outline so that their coloration can blend in with the leaves and flower petals.

After I was done photographing it, Sam let it go. She says that it gave off a very foul odor while it was being handled. When I asked what it smelled like, she said “Body Odor. Sweat. Unwashed socks. Terrible things!”

While these are predatory insects, their hunting habits make them not so good for pest control. They mostly end up eating beneficial pollinators rather than crop-destroying insects.

One Response
  1. October 16, 2022

    I was thinking that same thing – you’d rarely see them because their camouflaged is so good. All of those irregular shapes on their body make for some good visual noise. I would think that a matched-filter detection algorithm would struggle detecting it.

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