Lookout, It’s an Ambush!

Garden at Wildwood visitor center - mid-August
A small portion of the lovely gardens at Wildwood Metropark

After my walk in the woods today, I stopped to admire the flower garden at my local metropark. It’s a beautiful garden of both natives and non-natives, and I was checking to see if there were any interesting insects hanging out there.  My passion for native plants has turned me into a total bug geek, and I can’t resist looking beyond the simple beauty of the flowers to find the other hidden lives within their parts.

Since I’d been on a fitness walk, I only had my cell phone with me and so I started trying to take photos with it. But it’s terrible at macro shots. And so when I saw something new, I ran to the car for my real camera so I could document my cool discovery.

Jagged ambush bug on black-eyed susan - dorsal view w sig Kim Clair SmithThis is an ambush bug, a member of the assassin bug family. I believe this one is a jagged ambush bug (genus Phymata). This is the first ambush bug I’ve ever photographed, so I was very excited to discover him hiding in plain sight on top of a Black-eyed Susan flowerhead. As the name implies, they hunt by sitting in wait for a hapless victim to wander within reach of their lethal grasp.

After photographing his dorsal side, I slowly moved around to get a lateral view. Often when I’m shooting tiny subjects like this, I can’t fully see the details until I zoom in on the LCD screen on the back of the camera. And as I did that, I had to restrain myself from giggling out loud when I saw this adorable face:

Jagged ambush bug on black-eyed susan - side view Kim Clair Smith

I know, it might be adorable to me, but I wouldn’t want to be a small beetle trundling around those petals, I’ll tell you that. I mean, just look at those forelegs — they give you an indication of the reach he’s capable of.  And little did I know then, but I was about to see one of these guys in action. Well, sort of.

I moved along, photographing other insects, and then came upon another great piece to the story of the jagged ambush bug. I found this second one with a recently-acquired victim! All I can tell is that it’s some kind of bee. As I took my photos, the bee seemed to still be moving slightly, so that’s why I figured I’d just missed the grab.

Jagged Ambush bug with bee prey sig Kim Clair Smith

If you look closely at that last picture, you can see the bug’s proboscis stabbed into the bee’s abdomen. After he grabs his prey with those powerful legs, he injects poison that liquefies its insides. The insides are then sucked out through a rostrum, a straw-like structure inside the proboscis. Is that not cool or what?!

Aren’t we lucky these things are so small? With its powerful pincer legs, an ambush bug can easily take an insect up to ten times its size. Imagine a dog-sized ambush bug lurking in the shrubbery as you take your evening stroll…yikes!

Okay, that was a little bit unnerving, wasn’t it? Here’s a nice calming photo of the trail in the woods…take a deep breath…and forget all about ambush bugs. For now, at least.  😉

Red trail at Wildwood - lush and green in mid-August






  1. Kim-

    Your pictures are driving me buggy!! I don’t know if you have watched Antman, but I think you could have been a consultant for them!

    thanks, daryl


  2. It was Mr. Ambush bug in the garden with his proboscis.
    Murder solved.
    Sorry sis.. I had to say it. Gross but also Cool pics .


  3. Ha – I love this post. Your photos of the ambush bug are great. Your excitement over this bug was contagious. I have run for my camera a lot over the years – just to capture photos like your photos. Nature is so exciting with all its small, unnoticed creatures. Great post. The last photo should calm everyone down after your comments on huge ambush bugs in the woods. I think a sense of humor goes with loving nature. Ha Ha


    • Thanks, Peggy! Almost every time I go out to work in my garden, I end up running to the house for the camera. That’s why it always takes me a lot of time to get anything done in my yard!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I was outside with my camera – saw weeds around my stevia plant – hung my camera on a pole and forgot it was out there. Went searching for it 6 hours later. I do prefer photo taking over weed pulling. Ha


  4. This is my first post from your blog and I absolutely loved it. I too wander through flower beds looking for insects and macro photography has become a passion. We have ambush bugs here on Vancouver island but they are not as colourful as yours so I will have to look harder to find one.


  5. So interesting and excellent photos. Just wish it was sucking the juice out of a pest like Japanese Beetle or Sawfly.


  6. Lovely insect, a shame about its eating habits…eew. I have just bought a macro lens for my iPhone and I love it. I had one for a previous iPhone a few years ago but when I upgraded I thought I’d wait awhile to see if I really missed it. I did. Like you, I see so many things I would have otherwise missed when I shoot macro photos. It is made in OHIO by Moment photography, if you are interested!


    • Ardys, I think that iPhones have much better cameras, at least from what I’ve seen among my friends. I briefly considered getting a macro lens for my Samsung Galaxy, but decided to wait since I’ll probably need to upgrade my phone soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Since my only camera is my iPhone I don’t mind making a little investment so that I use it to the max. It is just so darned handy when I take my walks or when we travel.

        Liked by 1 person

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