The pretty black beetle with the bright red center back pattern? Yes, a Largus californicus nymph, a baby bordered plant bug new to our Cochise County (AZ) acreage. Or so it seemed; most likely, we simply hadn’t noticed these little guys before.
A bit of online research peeled back the mystery veil: These really attractive (to me, anyway) nymphs that look a bit like an upside down black widow spider’s abdomen…turn into much less intriguing adult bordered plant bugs. The grown-up versions, achieved after the babies go through five separate molting phases, or instars, are kind of long and flat and ordinary looking critters. Except for the contrasting edge color, that is. But hey, aren’t babies supposed to be cuter than older folks? Or does that only apply to birdies and mammals and fishies and such?
Unsurprisingly, this species is not well understood by the public at large. When it comes to the umpteen gazillion kinds of insects out there, most of us can tell a bee from a beetle, but the details? Not so much. Example: One site–where the author seems to know what he’s talking about–states definitively that the first instar for Lagus californicus is red while the second through fifth instars are black. Yet on another site where a group of black (with red back markings smaller than the one shown on this page) nymphs are accompanied by a purely red nymph, none of the readers got it right.
Mostly, they thought the red individual (which was smaller than the others, too) had “just molted” and would be turning black as time went on. Which was correct in a way, but “time” in this case would include another molt.
Judging by the advanced red-on-the-back pattern on our model, I’m guessing this one is a fifth (last) instar or close to it. Most likely, one more molt will produce the relatively boring adult bordered plant bug.
What does this bug eat? Not that we care personally; our off grid desert home is left entirely in its wild state (except for the actual homesite footprint, of course), so we don’t have any “tame” flowers or garden plants to consider. Pam and I both possess fair amounts of curiosity, though, ever willing to learn a little bit more about our immediate natural neighbors. Quoting from whatsthatbug.com:
According to BugGuide it feeds upon: “Mostly plants (flowers, leaves, fruit) from a range of families, with a preference for Lupines. L. californicus is not considered a ‘pest species’ of economic importance.”
Huh. Well, that explains why we don’t see a lot of these little guys, at least not every year. Our piece of Cochise County is not exactly rich in Lupines; most of these flowering plants prefer elevations slightly lower than our homne’s 4300 feet above sea level. Plus, according to desertusa.com, California hosts 73 Lupine species while a relatively pitiful 23 species grow in Arizona. Which would explain, perhaps, why the bordered plant bug is known as a Largus californicus and not a Largus Arizonicus, eh?
Update: June 15, 2015. Huh. Total side note: Just realized this would have been our 50th anniversary…if I were still married to Vicky, that is.
But wait. There’s more. Yesterday, near sunset, one of the adult versions of the bordered plant bug finally made its appearance. A bit later, some 30 feet away, another…and then another. At a guess, all those pretty red and black nymphs have now morphed into adults. So here’s a photo of one of them as promised.