Sapsucker Surprise

The yellow-bellied sapsuckers have returned to Massachusetts over the past few days, adding their characteristic percussion to the morning chorus outside my house.  This afternoon I noticed a sapsucker’s sap wells in a sugar maple by the Green River in Greenfield.  Sapsuckers return to these wells partly to drink the sap that collects in them, and partly to feed on the insects that are attracted to the sap.  I peeked into the wells and spotted something hiding in the leftmost well in the photo below.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker's sap wells in a sugar maple.

I was expecting to see only tiny flies, if anything, and was surprised to see what I believe to be a sycamore lace bug (Corythucha ciliata).  As far as I know, this species normally only feeds on the sap from sycamore leaves (and there were some sycamores not far away), but apparently this one was willing to make an exception.  I think most people, if lace bugs come into their consciousness at all, focus on the discoloration their feeding causes on leaves, and the poop that is messily sprayed on the leaf undersides.  If you take a close look at these tiny bugs, though, you’ll see that they’re some of the most beautiful creatures out there.

The lace bug (5 mm long) after I coaxed it out of the sapsucker well.

After I was done taking pictures of the lace bug I found that my hand, which had been resting on the tree trunk, had been acting as a dam for all the sap that was running down from the sapsucker wells–so I had some nice sticky syrupy sweetness to slurp as I walked away.

About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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