Sunday, August 03, 2008

Death in the Russian Sage

This time of year, a popular landscape plant called Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is a favorite for the local bees.

Yesterday evening I went out to watch the bees foraging on this plant. There were hundreds bobbing in and out and going from flower to flower gathering nectar for my fall honey. I like to see them working hard, but there was something wrong among the flowers. I saw several bees that seemed to be motionless or just hanging by the flowers apparently victims of some tragedy.

This death in the Russian sage was troubling. I saw maybe a dozen dead bees spread over 4 large plants. I shook a few to see if they were alive and one flew away, while the other fell to the ground. I posted questions about this mystery with photos over on the beekeepers forum and got a quick reply; mystery solved.

What I wasn't seeing at first, was a very small predatory bug called an "assassin bug" or an "ambush bug". According to Wikipedia, these bugs capture their prey with sticky feet and inject a paralyzing saliva into their bodies then ingest them by literally sucking the life out of their bodies. While this seems gruesome, there are many hazards waiting or the foraging bees and the number taken by these bugs is far less than what would happen if insecticides were used on the flowers.

After getting the answer from, I went out for another look, to find the bugs. Here are a few more close-ups showing these nasty bugs in action:

This one shows a native bee (species unknown) also falling victim to the ambush bug, which can be seen directly above:

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