The Monarch Murder

A week ago, I was checking on my caterpillars and my butterfly weed was loaded with monarch cats, along with the usual bug universe. Such diversity!

I saw one of my cats hanging from a leaf, just dangling in the air. I thought he might have gotten tangled in a leaf fiber or something and wondered if I could help him. I thought I could untangle him and place him back on a leaf.

And then pure horror!

It was not a leaf fiber, it was the killer harpoon mouth part from a spined soldier bug. They kill by stabbing their prey with the harpoon, and releasing a chemical that paralyzes it, then they suck all of the delicious juices from the body.

My heart just sank. I wondered if I could rescue the caterpillar, but the spined soldier bug looks mean and I decided not to go to battle with him. I spend too much time in that garden, in the plants, and he might hold a grudge. So I ran to the house to grab my camera instead.

There was a strong breeze, so I had difficulty getting the picture. It’s not good, but you can see quite the food chain. You can’t really see the spined soldier bug (I can, but I know he’s there…hidden in the leaves). The sadness is the caterpillar hanging from the tongue of death. And if you look carefully, you can see a blur of a ladybug on her way to eat some aphids. On top is what I believe to be a katydid wasp.

This next picture was a moment later, and both the spined soldier bug and the caterpillar were GONE.

I surmise one of three things happened:

  1. The wasp, which does eat katydids and other insects, ate them in the moments I was forwarding the film and training the lens back on the plant.
  2. When the wasp landed, it created enough thud that it knocked the spined soldier bug and his prey off the plant into the ground (I did look, but didn’t find them).
  3. The spined soldier bug, seeing the wasp, took his food and got the heck out of there when he saw the wasp.

It was both traumatic and exciting to witness this bit of Mother Nature. It just hadn’t occurred to me that there might be some predators who would eat my precious monarch cats. I work so hard in that area to make a nice, inviting home for monarchs and other butterflies that I have little feelings for them. Not as much as I love my cats, but I do care, and I stroke the caterpillars as they feed, hoping they’ll remember me when they return as butterflies. They don’t seem to mind, and I have to say that I always have at least one butterfly who will frolic with me and sometimes land on my finger.

Here’s a better picture of a spined soldier bug (actually a pair of them – tag team) sucking on a caterpillar. More on the spined soldier bug in my next post.