I noticed an orange bug near the trunk of the tree and stooped down to investigate.
Success! I had found Pselliopus barberi, a species I like to refer to as the zebra-striped assassin bug. I kept looking and found another one. Then another. And another....all in all, I counted 29 in total! There were about six pairs which were mating, though I disturbed a few (as you can see in the above photo).
It's not every day that you find so many insects in one place. So what was going on?
The answer lies in the season. This species overwinters as adults, so when it starts getting colder in the fall, the adults band together to find hiding places under bark and wrinkly crevices on trees. Sometimes it results in a little hanky-panky as well. It's for the good of the species, of course.
SCATTER GUYS, SCATTER!
On a related note, this was a time I was glad to have my Droid X with me. I didn't have my camera, but thankfully I was able to snap a few photos with my phone instead. They're not as high quality, but they get the job done and allowed me to identify the species of these bugs. And people say technology removes us from nature... Pro tip: it's all about how you use it.
Now, when will the assassin bugs come out again? That depends on when it warms up. Last year, I got my hands on an adult at the end of January. Last year was an abnormally hot winter, however, so (I hope) it won't be until early next Spring that we'll start to see the adults emerge from their hiding spots.
Heteroptera of Eastern North America. 1926. W.S. Blatchley. The Nature Publishing Company.