Crawlies with Cri: Jagged ambush bug (Genus Phymata)

You may not have known it, but we’ve been waiting eight years to meet this week’s crawly. Meet the jagged ambush bug (Genus Phymata).
I first saw a photo of one on Twitter around 2014 and have been searching for one ever since. They’re tricky to find for several reasons. First, there aren’t a lot in Oregon. Bug Guide has nine sightings and iNaturalist has 28 for our state.

Jagged ambush bug (Genus Phymata)

Jagged ambush bugs can be found throughout the lower 48 states and are quite common in some areas. Even in Oregon, there are spots where they can be reliably found. Our area is not one of those spots.
Not only are they uncommon to our state, but they are small. So small. They range from five-sixteenths to one-half an inch in length (females are slightly larger than males).
Lastly, they aren’t called “ambush bugs” for nothing. Their camouflage can be sheer perfection and they come in a range of colors to match most mid-to-late summer flowers.
Luckily our pictured jagged ambush bug opted for a contrasting-colored flower, and I found her. After eight years of scouring blossoms, I knew exactly what she was from a couple of feet away.
Now, let’s learn about these super cool critters. Ambush bugs are true bugs (Heteroptera) and as their name implies, they ambush and eat other arthropods. Like all garden predators, they’re good to have around as they’ll eliminate many garden pests.
Their name comes from their rough appearance which helps them better blend in with the flowers they perch on. Those raptorial legs are used to catch and hold onto their meal.
Jagged ambush bugs come in a range of plant/flower colors: gold, yellow, leaf-green, tan, brown or white, often with dark mottled patches or bands. Generally, they’ll perch on a posey that matches their body color, but in the case of our bug, she chose the most popular flower in the yard.
Even though she didn’t blend in perfectly, I watched several bees and butterflies literally walk right over her, so the camo and her ability to sit absolutely still indefinitely works on any bloom.
Despite the jagged’s small size, they can capture prey as large as a bumblebee. Jagged will dine on any type of arthropod that comes their way (when they are hungry), from caterpillars to moths and even other true bugs such as planthoppers and stink bugs.
Around this time of year females will lay dark brown barrel-shaped eggs by gluing them to sticks. The eggs will overwinter and hatch out in late spring. These young jaggeds go through five growth stages (instars) on their way to adulthood.
This can take anywhere from five weeks to three months depending on weather and food availability. The young jaggeds eat smaller arthropods such as midges, aphids and tiny caterpillars.
Jaggeds don’t develop their final color and spotted patterns until they are full adults. Nymphs are also smoother in appearance and even smaller.
While adults do overwinter in some areas, in Oregon adults have been spotted only in July, August and September. You still have a chance to see one this year.
They favor yellow and white flowers for perching. Queen Anne’s lace and St. John’s wort are two of their preferred perches, so keep a sharp eye out and you may get to see one of the amazing bugs in person.