Sometimes you just can't win for losing.
This morning a newly emerged Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) began drying its damp wings, preparing for flight. It had just emerged from its chrysalis. Soon it would be off to do what Gulf Frits do: leave its host plant, the passionflower vine, and find a mate.
It was not to be.
A cunning praying mantis, camouflaged as a green stem, snared it, grasping it in its spiked forelegs. Then it did one praying mantids do. It bit off its head and proceeded to eat it.
Quick and easy prey, for sure. But the mantis was not alone. A European paper wasp, seeking a little free protein to take back to her colony, got into the act, circling the struggling butterfly and taking quick bites.
The wasp carefully evaded the mantid's head and spiked forelegs.
If it it had not, this it would have been a two-course dinner. Butterfly first, wasp second.
Mouse Productions filmed a battle between a praying mantis and a wasp back in 2013. The mantis won. See YouTube video.
Talk about a spittin' image.
When you see one spittlebug froth, you've seen them all, right? They all look alike, right?
Well, the froth does, but you'll see different shapes and sizes on your plants.
When Ria de Grassi, director of Federal Policy, California Farm Bureau Federation, recently asked us a question about her encounter with spittlebug froth, our bee guy, Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC DAvis Department of Entomology and Nematology, answered it.
"Yes," he told Ria, "it is the bee guy answering questions on spittle bugs."
Mussen, who retired last year after 38 years of service, knows a lot about bees. Hey, he's an apiculturist. But he also knows a lot about spittle bugs. Hey, he holds a doctorate in entomology.
We thought we'd share the information.
"Just like foraging bees, spittlebugs have favorite host plants," Mussen says. "And just like bees, when the favorite plant is missing or drying up, the spittlebugs move to 'Plant B.' Actually, the nymph in the spittle cannot change plants, Momma has to lay eggs on the new selection."
"They normally start on weeds and they will stay there if the weeds hang around. Nothing is hanging around like they used to when they had some some soil moisture into the summer. So, the spittlebugs have moved into irrigated landscapes."
"I do not believe that spittlebugs vector plant diseases or cause physiological damage to their host plants. They are just an eyesore. The nymphs need the spittle to keep them moist, since they are very prone to dehydration. Using a jet of water, you can wash off the spittle. The bug usually goes with it. I don't know if their sucking mouthparts get broken or not (depends on whether or not the bug stays attached and feeding all the time). Thus, I don't know if they are physically capable of going back to business after being washed off."
"While they are out of the spittle, they are very likely to dehydrate to death in our climate, so wash them off in the morning and let them roast during the day."
Mussen says there's a group of systemic insecticides that might kill them on whatever plant is treated, "but those insecticides may not be too pollinator friendly if the plant is likely to come into bloom after the treatment."
We've often heard "spittlebugs" shortened to "spit bugs." A quick and easy and descriptive term.
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) says that spittlebugs occur throughout the United States "and can at least occasionally be found on almost any plant. Adult spittlebugs are inconspicuous, often greenish or brownish insects, about 0.25 inch long. Immature spittlebugs are recognized by the frothy white mass that nymphs surround themselves with on plant tissue where they feed."
What spittlebugs do is suck plant juices. And, as UC IPM says, "heavy infestations distort plant tissue and slow plant growth. The obvious and occasionally abundant masses of white foam on cones, foliage, or stems may be annoying, but the spittlebugs do not seriously harm established woody plants."
So, what's a meloid beetle to do?
Here you are, a meloid beetle foraging on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) and these long-horned digger bees keep dive-bombing you and pestering you.
Then a Gulf Fritilllary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) decides it wants a share of your flower.
So, it's take to take flight!
Blister beetles (family Meloidae) are known throughout the insect world for their defensive secretion of a blistering agent, cantharidin, according to Wikipedia. "About 7,500 species are known worldwide. Many are conspicuous and some are aposematically colored, announcing their toxicity to would-be predators."
Don't touch a blister beetle because that poisonous chemical can blister your skin.
Did you know that cantharidin is the principal irritant in Spanish fly, a folk medicine prepared from dried beetles in the Meloidae family? Wikipedia tells us so.
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) offers information about blister beetles in a UC Pest Management Guideline on its website. "Blister beetles are narrow and elongate and the covering over the wings is soft and flexible. They may be solid colored (black or gray) or striped (usually orange or yellow and black) and are among the largest beetles likely to be found in a sweep net sample in alfalfa."
UC IPM points out that cantharidin is toxic to livestock. "Cantharidin is contained in the hemolymph (blood) of the beetles and may contaminate forage directly when beetles killed during harvest are incorporated into baled hay or indirectly by transfer of the hemolymph from crushed beetles onto forage. As the name implies, handling these insects may result in blisters, similar to a burn, on the hands or fingers. Blister beetles have been a serious problem in alfalfa in the northern United States, the Midwest, and the south for many years, but until recently have not been a problem in California."
Blister beetles have been linked to the death of several dairy cows in the southern Owens Valley, according to UC IPM. "At this point, it is not known if blister beetles are widespread or confined to the Owens Valley. Likewise, it is not known if the problem is likely to spread and hence become a common occurrence in California alfalfa. In the meantime, growers and PCAs (Pest Control Advisors) are advised to be on the lookout for blister beetles and to contact their farm advisor for advice if these insects are found."
At Friday noon, July 17, ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology, will present a program on the species of ants found in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. This will be a special brown bag session in the haven, located on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Among the native ants at the haven are
- Dorymyrmex insanus (workers small, ~3 mm long, black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
- Dorymyrmex bicolor (workers small, ~3 mm long, bicolored, dull orange and black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
- Prenolepis imparis (also known as the “winter ant” or “winter honey ant”; workers small (3-4 mm long), brown, with shiny gaster; inconspicuous nests in soil)
- Formica moki (sometimes called “field ants”; workers medium-sized (6 mm long), with a dark head, orange-brown mesosoma (thorax) and silvery-gray gaster; nest in soil)
Images of these species can be found on the AntWeb (www.antweb.org).
At least six other species of native ants reside in the vicinity of the garden, including Formica aerata, Pogonomyrmex subdentatus, and Solenopsis xyloni. The introduced Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) occurs around the Bee Biology building, but it appears not to have colonized the bee garden.
Attendees will learn how to observe and identify California native ants, and learn about the differences between bees and ants in this free event. For more information see the flier and access the haven web site. The haven is owned and operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. It was planted in the fall of 2009. Christine Casey is the staff director and Extension apiculturist Elina Niño is the faculty director.
Then on Saturday night, July 18, the Bohart Museum of Entomology's first-ever evening open house will take place from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. The Bohart is located at 1124 Academic Surge on Crocker Lane. Free and open to the public, Moth Night will include outdoor collecting; viewing of the Bohart Museum's vast collection of worldwide moth specimens; demonstrations on how to spread the wings of a moth; and information on how to differentiate a moth from a butterfly. Free hot chocolate will be served.
The event is in keeping with National Moth Week, July 18-26, an annual event coordinated by Friends of the East Brunswick (New Jersey) Environmental Commission. This year, National Moth Week will spotlight the Sphingidae family of moths found throughout the world commonly called hawk moths, sphinx moths and hornworms. Citizen scientists will be out in force to record and photograph what they see that week.
Tabatha Yang, public education and outreach coordinator of the Bohart, said that after the sun sets, a black light demonstration will be held. Visitors will collect moths from a white sheet, much as residents do around their porch lights.
Entomologist Jeff Smith of Rocklin, an associate and 27-year volunteer at the Bohart Museum, will show visitors how to spread the wings of moths. Smith curates the 400,000-specimen Lepidoptera collection at the Bohart Museum. Smith organizes and identifies the butterflies and moths, creates the drawers that display them, and the labels that identify them. In between, he shares his passion for insects and spiders at outreach programs. Since 1988, Smith has spread the wings of 200,000 butterflies and moths, or about 7000 a year.
Naturalist Greg Kareofelas of Davis, a longtime associate at the Bohart Museum, will assist with the open house and the outdoor collecting. The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, is a world-renowned insect museum that houses a global collection of nearly 8 million specimens.
Take one Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
Add one praying mantis.
Add patience, persistence and perseverance.
And you have a recipe for success or failure.
In this case, an immature praying mantis patiently perched on a Tithonia today and watched a zipload of long-horned digger bees, honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees and sweat bees flash by.
Ms. Mantis tried but nailed nothing.
There's always tomorrow...