While out searching for caterpillars last week I came across a tiny juvenile Gray Treefrog in the bushes alongside the road. I walked back to the car to get my camera but when I returned, the frog had disappeared. As I looked for it I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. A closer look revealed a tale of tragedy and beauty. I recognized the victim as a Golden Tortoise Beetle, a beautiful insect I have seen in the garden several times. But I wasn’t sure who the colorful predator was other than some sort of stinkbug. As I watched, it moved around to the underside of the leaf where its colors stood out more against the lighter background.
The batteries in my flash were almost dead so I took just three pictures before giving up as the rain moved in. This critter was indeed strange as it walked around the leaf balancing its prize at the end of an incredibly long beak. A web search showed the vivid predator to be a Florida Predatory Stinkbug, Euthyrhynchus floridanus. When they jab their prey with their proboscis, they inject a toxin that slowly immobilizes the prey.
I was watching it move around with its prey when I noticed several more stinkbugs clustered in a folded leaf nearby. Juveniles (and, less often, adults) often aggregate, and are known to attack larger prey as a group. This aggregation behavior apparently allows them to successfully attack prey too large to be subdued by a single stinkbug, much like why wolves hunt in a pack. Imagine packs of tiny, brightly-colored wolf insects with jointed swords on their noses stalking prey in your backyard! I am constantly amazed by the complex life cycles and beauty to be found in nature.