Getting Buggy about Summer
When it comes to insects and spiders (arthropods) in the landscape, many people tend to think of little critters that cause problems and that we wish would go away. We think of stings, itchy bites, damage to plants/vegetables and the sheer creepiness of so many species. That’s too bad, because the vast majority of arthropods are either benign or are actually very beneficial to the world around us. It’s easy to enjoy butterflies, with their colorful wings and fluttering movements. We should also learn to enjoy many of the other arthropods in the garden. A few that are worth a closer look include:
Goldenrod Spider. The goldenrod spider (Misumena vatia) is a type of crab spider that exists throughout North America where it’s typically found waiting for prey on either white or yellow flowers. What is most fascinating about this spider is the ability of the female to change color from yellow to white, depending on the type of flower it inhabits. This camoflauge can make the spider nearly invisible. A goldenrod spider can grow to about the size of a dime and is often found on daisies and goldenrod flowers, thus its common name.
Soldier Beetle. The soldier beetle (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus) gets its common name from a bright red species in England that reminds people of a soldier’s coat. In Nebraska, the beetle looks quite similar to a lightning bug (and is related to it, but doesn’t “light up”). Soldier beetles are beneficial in two ways: they are predacious and eat many problematic insects including aphids, and they help pollinate flowers when feeding on nectar. Soldier beetles are found most often on yellow-flowering plants such as false sunflower, goldenrod and helenium. They are also quite common on milkweeds.
Red Milkweed Beetle. Just as its name implies, the red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) is found on milkweed plants, typically the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). It is thought that the beetle, much like the monarch butterfly, gets a measure of protection from predators by feeding on the milkweed plant and thus becoming very distasteful. The beetle grows to about 1/2” long, possesses distinctive annulate (segmented) antennae and is often found in great congregations on host plants. Although its bright red and black-dotted markings give it an intimidating appearance, this beautiful insect is completely harmless.
Insects and spiders should not be thought of primarily as things to kill or avoid, but rather should be enjoyed and celebrated. As summer heats up, take time to explore the fascinating world of the insects around us. Check out the myriad forms colors, shapes and sizes. It’s truly an amazing world, and one which none of us can do without.