Big Red visited us for four consecutive days.
The red flameskimmer dragonfly, Libellula saturata, zigged and zagged into our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. and perched on a bamboo stake for five hours at a time.
Occasionally, he'd hunt--lift off and grab a bee or other insect--and return to the stake to eat it.
Meanwhile California scrub jays nesting in our cherry laurel hedge eyed him. Hmm, there's lunch! And there's lunch having lunch!
Big Red knew they were there but paid no attention to them. He was more interested in the pollinators in the catmint.
He didn't seem to mind us. We eased toward him, about five inches from him. He seemed to know we weren't predators, but photographers.
According to Nature's Notebook (Connecting People with Nature to Benefit Our Changing Planet):
"This species occurs in most states in the western half of the United States from Montana to Oregon, south to southern California, east to Texas, and north through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming. There are outlying records in Missouri and South Dakota and a disjunct population in Houston, Texas. The species also occurs in northern Mexico (Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, and Sonora)."
"This species is typically found near warm water ponds, warm, slow streams, lakes, ditches, and hot springs- particularly in the northern part of its range. In Idaho, it occurs in high elevation deserts."
We provided the fish pond and the pollinator garden. And the bamboo stakes...
No, it's the mosquito.
Infected mosquitoes transmit diseases that account for some 750,000 deaths a year, according to a recent article in Science Alert.
The mosquito is a piece of work. Remember when several UC Davis scientists were featured in a KQED-produced science video on "How Mosquitoes Use Six Needles to Suck Your Blood?"
So when noted molecular neurobiologist Leslie Vosshall of the Rockefeller University, New York City, speaks on "Neurobiology of the World's Most Dangerous Animal" on Wednesday, May 24 at the University of California, Davis, her audience will not only learn just how dangerous the most dangerous animal is, but learn about her exciting research.
The hourlong seminar, free and open to the public, is set for 4:10 p.m. in the Student Community Center, UC Davis.
The Vosshall laboratory studies the molecular neurobiology of mosquitoes. Female mosquitoes require a blood meal to complete egg development, she explains. "In carrying out this innate behavior, mosquitoes spread dangerous infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue, Zika, Chikungunya and yellow fever."
"Some of the questions we are currently addressing are: Why are some people more attractive to mosquitoes than others? How do insect repellents work? How are multiple sensory cues integrated in the mosquito brain to elicit innate behaviors? How do female mosquitoes select a suitable body of water to lay their eggs? The long-term goal of all of our work is to understand how behaviors emerge from the integration of sensory input with internal physiological states."
The seminar is sponsored by the College of Biological Sciences and the Storer Life Sciences Endowment. Host is molecular geneticist Joanna Chiu, associate professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
At the Rockefeller University, Vosshall is the Robin Chemers Neustein Professor and head of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior and director of the Kavli Neural Systems Institute. She is known for her work on the genetic basis of chemosensory behavior in both insects and humans.
Her notable contributions to science include the discovery of insect odorant receptors, and the clarification of general principles regarding their function, expression and the connectivity of the sensory neurons that express them to primary processing centers in the brain. She founded the Rockefeller University Smell Study in 2004 with the goal of understanding the mechanisms by which odor stimuli are converted to olfatory percepts.
Vosshall received her bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Columbia University, New York, in 1987 and her doctorate from Rockefeller University in 1993. Following postdoctoral work at Columbia University, she joined the Rockefeller faculty in 2000.
She is the recipient of the 2008 Lawrence C. Katz Prize from Duke University, the 2010 DART/NYU Biotechnology Award, and the 2011 Gill Young Investigator Award. She is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
For more information on the seminar, contact host Joanna Chiu at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you seen me? Can you identify me?
No, you're a skipper, but which one are you?
The colorful brown skipper butterfly that touched down on our Jupiter's Beard in Vacaville, Calif., on May 17 puzzled us. First skipper we've seen this year in our pollinator garden, but what was it?
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who has studied butterflies for more than four decades--and who posts his research and observations on his Art's Butterfly World website--identified it as Poanes (Paratrytone) melane, the Umber Skipper.
"It's having a HUGE year," Shapiro told us today. "It was extinct in Davis for over 30 years! But it came back a few years ago."
The Umber Skipper is also recorded on his website. "Although common in parts of the Bay Area where it is an urban 'lawn skipper,'" on our transect this is entirely a species of riparian forest and is generally uncommon or even rare. It perches in dappled light and shade along streamsides, generally well off the ground...In Berkeley it breeds happily on Bermuda Grass, which seems to have not discovered farther inland."
The Poanes melane adults visit Yerba Santa, dogbane, milkweed, thistles, yellowstar thistle, California buckeye, and coyote bush, among others.
The larvae of this skipper feed on the leaves of various grasses. Wikipedia describes the wings as "umber brown, the forewing with a darker disc and pale spots and the hindwing with a light yellow-brown band."
Quick research indicates that J. B. Heppener of the UC Berkeley Department of Entomology wrote about its 1941 spread in San Diego County in a piece published in 1972 in the Journal of Research on the Lepitoptera. He mentioned that when it spread into San Diego County in 1941 it "was sudden and well noted by resident collectors due to its previous absence from the county."
San Diego residents reportedly first encountered it in August 1941. "F. T. Thorne was one of the first collectors to encounter melane and he vividly recounts his excitement upon realizing what was being caught," Heppener wrote.
We know that feeling...that excitement!
But it's primarily for the bee brood, not the honey.
The brood provides the protein, and the honey, the carbohydrates. For beekeepers and commercial queen bee breeders, this can wreak havoc. Financial havoc.
The American Beekeeping Federation, headed by Gene Brandi of Los Gatos, recently asked Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology to respond to a question about bees and bears.
Mussen, who retired in 2014 after 38 years of service (but he still remains active from his office in Briggs Hall), is from Minnesota, where the bears are and he isn't. He's managed to photograph a few bears, though, on family outings to Lake Tahoe.
We thought we'd share his response about bees and bears. Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, who owns Jackie Park-Burris Queens, kindly let us post some of her photos so our readers can see what bear damage looks like. A past president of the California State Apiary Board and the California State Beekeepers' Association, she's a member of the noted Homer Park beekeeping family and has been involved with bees all of her life. She's been breeding Park Italian queens since 1994.
But back to Eric Mussen, the bee guru who has answered tons of questions during his 38-year academic career and who's now serving his sixth term as president of the Western Apicultural Society. (The society, founded in Davis, will gather \Sept. 5-8 in Davis for its 40th annual meeting, returning to its roots.)
"Bears eat both meat and plants (berries) etc. whenever they can find them," Mussen says. "Most people think that a bear has a sweet tooth, since it is attracted to beehives. While it is true that bears will eat some honey if it gains access to a hive, a closer look shows that it will eat all of what we call 'brood' first, and then eats a little honey."
"Bears have a pretty good sense of smell, so they can smell a beehive if they get downwind of a nearby colony," Mussen points out. "If the colony is living in a tree, often the bear literally tears the tree apart to get to the bees. Unfortunately, they will claw and dig into a man-made beehive, as well. They leave the covers scattered all over; the hive boxes scattered and often broken; the combs pulled out, broken, and strewn about in the apiary; and the combs that had brood in them will have the comb eaten out. The colony will not survive and there may be very little undamaged equipment to salvage."
"To a small-scale beekeeper," Mussen says, "the financial loss is not too severe. However, losing the colony, that requires so much effort to keep healthy these days, is quite a blow. For commercial operators, who may not revisit the apiary for a couple weeks, it can mean a very substantial economic loss."
"The correct type of well-maintained bear fence usually is very effective at keeping bears away from the hives. However, that holds true only for situations in which the bear has not had previous positive experiences ripping apart man-made beehives. In that case, the bear expects a substantial reward for barging through the stinging fence and getting into the hives."
What to do? "Most beekeepers have no desire to kill bears, but they do desire to keep their colonies alive," Mussen says. "Often, attempts are made to capture the offending bear, tag it, and move it away far enough that it should not return. Some of the wildlife specialists marvel in how far away a bear can be taken away and still return. Bears that cannot stay away from apiaries, or away from people's houses, or away from trash containers, etc., sometimes have to be eliminated. It is best to have this done by agency personnel, but sometimes in remote areas the beekeepers get deprivation permits and kill the bear themselves. In Northern California, the beekeeper has to notify the wildlife people of the kill, and the carcass has to be inspected to be certain that specific, black market body parts have not been removed from the bear. The carcass then is buried in a landfill, or once in a while used in institutional food."
Occasionally Bug Squad hears of bears raiding honey bee hives in rural Solano County. We remember a story about a beekeeper/queen breeder in Mix Canyon, Vacaville, who was losing his hives to a "wild animal." The loss? Reportedly about $30,000. He set up a stealth camera and....photographed a 300-pound black bear.
"Bears have a pretty good sense of smell," as Mussen says, and the result can be "a very substantial economic loss."
So there we were, on Mother's Day, looking at the yet-to-bloom English lavender in our yard.
And there it was, something golden staring back at us.
It was showing a face that "only a mother could love"--or an entomologist or an insect enthusiast.
Scathophaga stercoraria, the golden dung fly. A red-eyed blond fly.
It's a beneficial insect. The larvae are often found in the feces of large animals, including horses, cattle, sheep, deer and wild boar, where the insect breeds. (Note: We have no horses, cattle, sheep, deer or wild boar near us!) The larvae eat the dung, making this insect important to natural decomposition.
The adult is a predator, it hunts for flies and other small insects. The adults also sip nectar, just like honey bees and other pollinators. Nearby was another golden dung fly, dead. Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, looked at its swollen belly and said it died "from entomophagous fungus--perhaps the same one that 'glues' houseflies to window panes."
For more information on these fascinating insects, check out the BugGuide.Net entry on the golden dung fly. The insect was first described in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus as Musca stercoraria, according to BugGuide.Net.