Clover and Coreids

While pretty purple Wedgeleaf Prairie Clovers were busy overspreading the warm dunes of coastal Texas, their genus-mate, Golden Prairie Clover (Dalea aurea) was standing tall in the gravelly loam of the Texas hill country.

Spreading as far north as South Dakota and a bit west into Arizona and Colorado, this warm season perennial — a member of the pea family —  prefers the sandy soils of mesas, roadsides, and shortgrass prairies. Both livestock and white-tailed deer find Golden Prairie Clover to their liking, which helps to explain why it’s often seen along roadsides, or on land free of cattle.

When I found my first group of one to two foot tall bloom stalks, they were growing alongside Texas 187, north of the Lost Maples Natural Area. The two closeups of flowers were taken on Gillespie County’s Willow City loop, where they’d established themselves in a roadside patch of gravel near a ranch gate.

When in bloom, a spiral of yellow, pea-like flowers encircles a cone-like spike; the same silky, gray hairs that cover the leaves and stem are obvious on the spike.

The flower is especially attractive to a variety of bees, but no bees hovered around these blooms. Instead, a crab spider lurked beneath a petal of the flower pictured below, and a nymph of the common cactus bug, Chelinidea vittiger, had found its way onto the stem.

Cactus bugs, also known as Cactus Coreids, are shield-shaped insects with piercing mouth parts. While adults have wings, the nymphs are wingless; both feed in groups on prickly pear cactus.

The first indications of feeding are light, circular spots on the pads which show that the insects have been at work for some time. With continued feeding, the spots become larger and coalesce, and the entire pad becomes yellowish and pitted.

Secondary invasion by fungi sometimes causes large, black spots. When the infected areas drop out, a nearly circular opening through the joint may appear, or an entire pad may drop off.

After progressing through several stages, the still-wingless nymph becomes increasingly attractive. The brown, leathery appearance of this latter stage makes the insect easily recognizable, even when it leaves its preferred prickly pear to explore the world of a Golden Dalea.


Comments always are welcome.

73 thoughts on “Clover and Coreids

        1. That’s interesting. I’ve so rarely seen a tick of any sort they don’t naturally come to mind. When I found the cluster of young nymphs, my first thought was that I’d come across milkweed bugs. Then, I took a second look, considered the fact that they were on a cactus pad rather than milkweed, and reconsidered!

    1. I’ll confess to being more inclined toward the older, individual one than those clusters of very young nymphs; I think it’s their smooth texture that appeals. I’m glad you enjoyed seeing it, and thank you for saying so.

  1. Your phrase “as far north as South Dakota” reminded me of Peter Schickele (P.D.Q. Bach) and his fictional University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople. Speaking of words, Cactus Coreid has a nice alliterative sound to it. Your final photo presents quite a weighty portrait of one.

    1. I still remember PDQ Bach’s piece, “The Short-Tempered Clavier.” When I heard it, I knew just enough Bach at the time to know the Well-Tempered Clavier, and I honestly thought it was the real thing — at least, until ‘Chopsticks’ showed up.

      While the bugs are getting their deserved attention, I have to say I love this plant. What strikes me are those silky hairs; they remind me of pussy willows.

    1. Since you’re turning into a poet, here’s a little ditty for you:

      The bugs of the world, it seems,
      too often are met with a scream.
      But when viewed with an eye
      that stays close and not high,
      their beauty can certainly gleam.

  2. Lovely photos! I’m not familiar with this pretty thing; I looked it up in the LBJWC and noticed that it’s bloom time is listed as April, May, June. Were these blooming recently? If so, that’s impressive.

    Impressive as well are your close ups of the cactus bugs!

    1. They were blooming at the very end of June — the 28th and 29th — although there were enough developing flowers that they surely went for a bit into July. I read on one site that the plants tend to be scattered; they’d be easy to miss. I spotted the ones in the first photo while driving, but only because they were on a limestone ledge above eye level and against the sky. The others I literally stumbled across after stopping to check out some Queen’s Delight (Stillingia sylvatica).

      Aren’t those cactus bugs something? It wasn’t until the good people at BugGuide offered an ID of the lone bug that I realized I had a photo of that large cluster in my files. I found them on a Galveston Island prickly pear, years ago. I can’t find them on my blog, so I may never have published that photo. I probably didn’t know what they were.

    1. The good news is that fire ants are fond of eating ticks. They’re part of the reason ticks aren’t the problem here they would be without the fire ants. The bad news, of course, is the fire ants themselves. At least they’re not as stealthy as the ticks.

    1. Oh, my. Sorry about that — although I will admit that I laughed at your response. I do try to have at least a little something for everyone in a post, so I’m glad you could gaze on the Golden Prairie Clover instead of… well, those!

      On another subject entirely, I found the Turkish shop in Houston on Wednesday, although I was there before they opened. No matter. Now that I know where it is, and know their hours, I’ll make a conscious effort to enjoy their offerings. I’m really curious about both the taste and the texture.

  3. I note that the hairs on the Prairie Clover cone are directional, and those on the stem appear to be that way too. It would direct insects upward toward the blooms where they would be more visible (and edible) to predatory insects and birds. Those plants that have flowers that have this egg shaped platform that produces spirals of little blooms are interesting.

    1. The plants with spiraling flowers, or flowers that bloom in ever-higher rings as the dome increases in length, are interesting. Two that come to mind are the so-called English plantain and one of my favorites, Frog Fruit. I’ve never figured out that name, so I went looking, and found this:

      ” In the Middle Ages, farmers knew that after they hayed their meadows, low-growing plants would pop up. Because meadows often have fog on them in the mornings, these low-growing plants were collectively known as “fog fruit.” We played telephone with that one for hundreds of years until fog fruit morphed into frog fruit. And this is why we always try to use Latin names. Frog Fruit is phyla nodiflora. It is a type of verbena. ”

      Sometimes, those hairs have other interesting uses. Pitcher plants use a variety of hairs to ensure the insects that drop into them don’t get out.

    1. Thanks! I was especially happy with the top photo, since the wind was brisk, and those stems were long. As so often happens, of course, the cactus bug photos profited by the use of my macro lens.

    1. A cactus pad isn’t the most delicate thing in the world, that’s for sure. I’d think that piercing it requires some force, and of course those sharp mouth parts are helpful. I smiled at one article that mentioned how sluggish most cactus insects are; they don’t have to feed quickly, since the spines of the plant offer protection.

  4. Aghhh. Fire ants and prickly pear?

    They are first on the list of most fearful enemies of the Australian continent. A nest of fire ants were found in Western Australia and it was headline news.

    Fire ants Australia
    Fire ants are dangerous, imported pests that could spread to large areas of Australia. Fire ants could severely damage the environment, our outdoor lifestyle, and the agriculture and tourism industries. They inflict a painful, fiery sting, which can, in rare cases, cause a severe acute allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).24 Feb 2022

    Prickly pear too devastated thousands of HA of arable farm land till they discovered an insect that killed off the plant.

    1. While reading about this cactus bug, I found some interesting information about the use of this bug in your country:

      “In Australia, for example, over 30,000,000 acres of pasture land were rendered useless because of dense stands of exotic prickly pear cacti. One of the native American cactus insects that showed early promise as a control agent was the coreid bug, Chelinidea vittiger. DeVol and Goeden (1973) discussed the value of this species in biological weed control and reported that it was ineffective in controlling prickly pears in Australia and Santa Cruz Island, California. In most areas of North America prickly pears are not a problem because a complex of insects keeps them under control.”

      As for fire ants, ways of controlling those little beasts are developing. They’re one reason I often wear knee high boots even in scrub land. It’s easy to miss them, and the boots provide critical seconds that allow for getting rid of them before they hit flesh.

  5. Funnily enough I’d never stopped to wonder why prickly pear sport holes. Interesting!
    “… the still-wingless nymph becomes increasingly attractive.” That’s a big ‘No’ from me !

    1. Every sort of creature likes to feed on the prickly pear, and various diseases afflict them. Fungi like sunscald are common — not to be confused with sunburn, which also can happen. I had to laugh about your big “No!” to my ‘attractive bug.’ Sometimes we don’t realize how much we’ve changed until something entirely unexpected happens. There certainly was a time when I never would have noticed those bugs, and if I had noticed them, I would have found them yucky. At this point, ‘yucky’ is pretty much reserved for millipedes and our big ‘palmetto bugs,’ which I still see as huge, flying roaches. Well, and slugs.

    1. I can’t think of much that’s positive about fire ants, but tick-eating ranks right up there. You’re right about this plant not enjoying our soils. The closest I’ve seen them listed is in Colorado County, home of the Attwater Prairie Preserve. When I saw that, I added them to my “Look for…” list.

      We’re finally getting some rain. There was a half-inch Friday, and we’ve had about the same this morning. Even better, I see that the Brazoria refuge is getting some, although it’s still missing Walden West/San Bernard. Anahuac’s been the big winner, for sure.

    1. I think that silky flower is beautiful, but the bug, perfectly adapted to chowing down on prickly pear, really is something. I wasn’t able to get the front view I’d hoped for, since there was a fence between us and the bug never moved, but at least I know what it is now, and can look for another one for a photo session.

  6. I never knew much about cactus bugs. They would have to be tough to feed on cactus.

    Thanks for your suggestions on WP! Husband read yours and did some trouble shooting – he is my live-in tech support, I am back to liking and commenting!!! But it is rather random as it is not working for all blogs but better. I tried to chat with WP but only emailing them seemed to work.

    Rain finally came today! Rain barrels are full. We’ve spent the morning working on WP and will stop and enjoy the rain and toast Chac! Thanks again. .

    1. Several articles about this little guy mentioned ‘piercing mouth parts.’ I suspect that pretty much tells the tale of how they dine.

      I’m glad my suggestion helped a bit. Life would be so much easier if WordPress would publicize some of the back-end changes. If I hadn’t found that article about cross-site tracking while I was digging online, I never would have figured it out myself. I’ve decided that even some of their support people don’t always know the details of what’s going on. But when they do, things can be resolved quickly, as they were with my notifications tab.

      I’ve been watching your rain. We actually got three good downpours from one of the outer bands this morning, so I have at least enough rainwater for my indoor plants. It’s good that it made it onshore when it did; the gurus here say it might have had enough energy to gain a little too much oomph before it arrived. Rain without a name really is the best!

  7. Sorry, Linda, but these bugs make my skin itchy!! And those “piercing mouth parts” give me the willies! You can tell I’m not much of a bug-person, can’t you? That clover, however, is most attractive (and it reminds me of my late grandpa’s farm, where he had oodles of purple clover).

    1. No need to apologize, Debbie! Everyone has something that creeps them out. That’s why I paired the bugs with the flowers — something for everyone, so to speak. Where was your grandfather’s farm located? When I was in Mississippi, in the counties sort-of-bordering the river, there were lots of farms behind the levees that were growing the prettiest reddish/purple clover. I’d never seen such a thing, and the scent was wonderful. The blooms were big, too — far bigger than anything I’d ever seen. Of course, I was used to our lawn clovers, which were quite a different thing.

      1. I’m used to the lawn clovers, too. Grandpa’s farm was on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, about two miles inland. He grew pecan trees when I was a kid (until Camille blew through and caused tremendous devastation). We kids used to pull that red clover and feed it to the donkey!

        1. Lucky donkey! I knew about Camille because of the story that circulated for years about the twenty-some people who died in Pass Christian because they insisted on partying in a three-story apartment building. It seems the woman who claimed to be the sole survivor has been contradicted by other survivors; there are a lot of stories now claiming that the hurricane party was a myth. In any event, it was a terrible storm. I visited Bay St. Louis and Waveland after Katrina, and that was ghastly. Fingers crossed for a continuation of our relatively calm year.

    1. They’re quite pretty, but they don’t demand attention like some wildflowers. From what I’ve read, they tend to appear individually or in small groups, and they’re often along roadsides or on disturbed land. I wish now I’d taken better photos of plants they were growing next to. I know there was some Baldwin’s ironweed, which is much easier to spot. Next year, if I see that plant I’ll look for them — or prickly pear, for that matter.

  8. The mere mention of Lost Maples Natural Area evokes fond memories. I spent a great day birding there once. I have no recollection of seeing these flowers, but perhaps I did. They are very attractive.

    1. Lost Maples is a wonderful place in every season, although this summer has tested it a bit; a few trails were closed simply to protect people from themselves. There are a lot of unprepared hikers who arrive without enough water or experience to cope with the heat. Of course, spring and fall are the best times to visit in any year: flowers like this in the spring and early summer, and glorious (if unpredictable) color in the fall. I hope you’re able to visit again some time; I hear the birding there can be quite good during migrations.

  9. The photograph of the clover with the background sky is very appealing.

    For some reason, in my head, your title morphed into “Crimson and Clover” and now I’m humming as I type.

    The flower itself is simply gorgeous. The pea-like petals and, I can’t help it, but I still see a strawberry.

    The Cactus Bug herd is spectacular! I know I’m in the minority, but I do agree that brown instar is quite attractive. The adult bugs, even more so. Although they are easily condemned for making prickly pear pads appear unsightly, they are actually given credit for playing a minor role in preventing the cactus from overtaking other native plant habitat.

    Crab Spider! I wander around taking pictures, get home, process the images and – there it is – skulking behind a flower petal – never saw it in the field.

    Your reply to a poster above included mention of one of my favorites – Phyla nodiflora. Great history on its name. Not content with the confusion between “fog” and “frog”, your taxonomist friends tacked on “Turky Tangle Fog Fruit”, a moniker immensely larger than the actual plant! (For such a tiny flower, it sure does attract a diverse group of nectar feeders!)

    You took a photograph of a simple flower. Look at all it has revealed! Multiply that by all the flowers in nature. Staggering.

    1. There’s nothing like a road cut to provide a little ‘lift’ for a bouquet that deserves to be photographed against the sky! And just so you know, if there’d been a sunset around, “Crimson and Clover” probably would have made the title cut.

      This one’s a lot silkier than the beach version. It felt catkin-like. I could see the strawberry in the beach clover, but this one evokes pussy willows.

      I’ve been laughing at the responses to the cactus bug. I can’t quite figure out when I turned into a girl who thought bugs were cute, but here we are. I read quite a bit about them on this Florida site — very interesting.

      As for all the discoveries these simple flowers led to, I never tire of quoting that line from John Muir: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

  10. The body of that cactus bug reminds me way too much of a tick, though the antennae do help give it a different look. Really fascinating color, though.

    1. Clearly, my tick-o-meter isn’t as finely tuned as yours, or those of others in the eastern and northeastern parts of the country. I know we have them, but my experience with them is so limited they just didn’t come to mind. I believe this is the last (fifth) instar. Once full adulthood is achieved, they look rather different, and not at all tick-like. Now I’m going to have to find an adult to photograph!

  11. We have a few dozen species of clover in New England only a small handful of them are natives including the white clover in our yard which so many employ herbicides to rid them from their lawns. Yours are beautiful as are ours despite their non-native status.
    Those cactus bugs are cute little buggers and that’s a fine closeup of the singleton. It looks a little like polished leather.

    1. I read that the cactus bugs have five instars, and the single one clearly is one of the last. They have wings as adults, and are quite attractive. I may have seen an adult and didn’t realize it, but now that I know to look for them, I may spot them this year.

      This is a great example of common names being a touch confusing, since so many of our yard clovers belong to the genus Trifolium rather than Dalea. Still, it’s understandable that flowers like this popping up in a field might be called clover. They sure are pretty.

    1. I’ve known since childhood about the caterpillar/butterfly relationship, and of course tadpole and frog, but it’s been fascinating to discover how many insects change form — sometimes rather dramatically — as they mature. Sometimes, as with these cactus bugs, I prefer one form over the others. I think that snazzy brown and black instar is really cool, but I’m not so fond of the youngsters. Maybe it’s because there are so many of them.

  12. I’m always amazed at how many variations of flowers you come up with. It’s not something I ever associated with Texas.

    Of course, my experience with Texas is more west Texas…

    1. The surprise to me was how many beautiful flowers grow in west Texas. I’ve not made it to the Big Bend or the mountains there, but it’s a dream. Even making it only to the Edwards Plateau/hill country can provide a wealth of different plants, like these. Texas isn’t just large, it’s diverse, with twelve ecoregions (depending on who’s dividing them), and the plant life can vary widely. It’s sure fun to explore the different areas.

    1. Truly, they aren’t interested in you at all. When they’re fully grown, they have wings and an entirely different appearance. I probably should have shown this final growth stage, but I didn’t have a photo of my own. Besides, I did think that last stage was pretty cool!

    1. I do enjoy finding new plants, and introducing myself to them. I’d seen photos of this one, but it took a trip to the Texas hill country to come across it. The flowers are as soft and silky as a pussy willow.

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