I had planned to post just a single photo of this scene with ants tending treehoppers. Here we see at least two different colorful treehopper instars, with one actively molting. Ants like the one shown above tended to this small grouping of treehoppers. As I was choosing a photo to post, I noticed something strange about the treehoppers though. Do you see it too?
Look closely and you’ll see that a few nymphs have parasites. I wasn’t sure at first, so I started looking through my other photos. Sure enough, almost every one had one or more parasites. The parasites seem to prefer hiding under the wing pads and below the thorax.
For several days I had noticed ants racing along the bricks at the base of one of my garage doors. I finally took a closer look to see what could be keeping them so busy for so long. They were streaming between a hole in my house and somewhere out in the front yard. I tried following, but these ants are tiny, only a few millimeters long. I quickly lost them in some pine straw.
Turns out they were moving out of my house. The ones heading toward the yard were carrying eggs, larvae, and pupae. As I watched them though, I noticed something else leaving with them that didn’t look quite right.
Leafcutter ants are a common sight in the Brazilian cerrado. I admit to being apathetic when it comes to photographing them. In order for me to turn my lens on them, something unusual generally has to be happening. In this case, I first noticed something odd occurring around one of the nest entrances. Looking closer, I could see the ants were being attacked by a small fly. I had read about that, but had never seen it personally. Intrigued, I figured I’d spend a few minutes shooting, even though I fully expected to end up with nothing usable. I was pleasantly surprised that one of the images managed to get both an ant and the fly in focus.
Each one of these eggs from the underside of a leaf was parasitized by a wasp. Their barrel shape with round fringed caps suggests they might be stink bug eggs. Had a stink bug nymph emerged, the caps would have been neatly opened. Instead, they each have a roundish hole chewed in them. In fact, there’s a parasitoid wasp straggler chewing its way free from the rightmost egg.
I might be seeing things, but you can almost make out the wasp’s body through the transparent egg shell.
I didn’t notice at the time, but a mite came along.
Metamorphosis for this butterfly appears to have been interrupted by a parasite, a small wasp perhaps. You can see the hole where the parasite chewed its way out. Oddly, there’s a similar hole on the other side. Maybe it abandoned this other exit since it looks incomplete. Or maybe there were actually multiple parasites.
I know this is the chrysalis of a brush-footed butterfly in the family Nymphalidae because other butterfly families use a a small silken thread around the thorax to help secure it. Here’s an example from an earlier post.
Can you spot the spider corpse here? Looks like it succumbed to some sort of fungal infection. Fungi are quite diverse and I don’t recall ever seeing one quite like this one. Here’s a closer view.
I suspect that webbing is probably from the spider itself. It probably was hiding inside a silken retreat when it died.
Would the fungus properly be called an arachnopathogen? I think so but there’s practically no hits when I search for that term.
I did find a photo with a similar looking fungus on BugGuide though. Sadly, no info on the identity of the fungus. It’s neat to see that the photo was taken not too far from where I live though.
Despite its defenses, this caterpillars appears to have ended up with some parasite eggs, a tachinid fly perhaps.
I collected this little chrysalis while I was in the field the day before I took this photo. I didn’t think I’d be able to get a good photo at the time, and I was curious to see what might emerge. Strangely, looking at this with my own eye, it appears opaque with a silvery and gold surface. With the camera and flash, it appears as above, somewhat transparent and showing what looks like a wing inside. I figured it would only be a short time to see the butterfly that might emerge. Well, I was half right.
The more I observe nature, the more I realize that parasites rule. So far this trip, I’ve accumulated dozens of photos to prove my point, including the one above.
Believe it or not, this caterpillar was still alive. The parasites, wasps presumably, are long gone.