The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Hey Geek, what’s this? An ant that’s not…

This mystery was passed on to me from a friend in Texas, who fields the “what’s this bug?”-type inquiries that are sent to his place of employment.  The email subject line was: “Challenging ID“, and this message and lovely photograph from Kimberley were attached:

I was hoping you could help me identify what type of ant this is. I have seen a few on the black eyed peas in my garden, they are always alone. I would estimate they are about 1/2 inch long, maybe a little bigger

Photo by Kimberly Hill

Now, my friend already knew the answer. “Here is a tough one,” he said. I considered this to be a fun little test from my respected colleague, so I was all,

The first thing I found myself doing was counting “stuff” at the head end of this critter. I was reminded of the time we took our three-legged dog to a friend’s bbq, and caught another guest staring at our pooch from across the yard with a perplexed look on her face, saying aloud, “Oooone….twooooo…three.  One…two…three?”

Similarly, I count three dangly bits hanging off this insect’s face – two antennae and … a proboscis. Last time I checked, ants did not have sucking mouthparts,

Impostor!

This is not an ant at all; the mouthparts are a dead giveaway for something in the Hemiptera. Since it doesn’t have fully developed wings, it must be a juvenile, or nymph.

Putting all the pieces together:

  • ant mimic
  • pretty distinctive colouration and shape
  • true bug
  • nymph
  • found on a legume plant
  • a Texas locality

I’ve been able to come up with what I think is a pretty good guess of this critter’s identity:

the Texas Bow-legged Bug (Hyalymenus tarsatus).

This insect looks remarkably different as a juvenile than as an adult (see some images here) and the juveniles show a wonderful range of coloration. The only species in the genus found in Texas, these insects are known to feed on legumes and other plants with seed pods, like milkweeds.

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4 responses to “Hey Geek, what’s this? An ant that’s not…

  1. Mike Powell July 20, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    Nice investigative work, though I must confess that I had to look up to see if there really is a Texas bow-legged bug. Somehow it sounds to me like the punch line of a bad joke. Maybe something like, why is it the Texas bug bow-legged? From riding a horsefly. Sorry….couldn’t resist.

  2. Kimberly July 20, 2012 at 10:28 PM

    Many thanks for the identification! I’ve learned a lot about the different bugs in our garden, but this one threw me for a loop. I’ve definitely learned more about insect identification with this mystery! (I only wish it would’ve turned out to be some sort of predatory insect instead of one that is eating my black eyed peas 😉

    • TGIQ August 4, 2012 at 3:42 PM

      You’re very welcome! It was a fun one to work out; I received a photo of the adult too…I’ll be getting it up on here as an addendum soon 🙂 Thanks for letting me post the pics! 😀

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