They're so tiny and inconspicuous that they're easy to miss. They're about an inch long and so slender that they look like flying needles.
Like its cousin, the dragonfly, the damselfly (suborder Zygoptera) is a predator that catches and eats flying insects. Flies, knats and mosquitoes are often on their menu.
Damselflies frequent the area near our fish pond and we see them glide in and out of our lavender patch, the catmint, oregano and the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia). Sometimes they perch on a stem in the early morning and warm their flight muscles.
When we see them, we always look for bright red mites. Red mites? Think of a a cluster of miniature salmon eggs. Some of these damselflies are so heavily parasitized that you wonder how long they'll survive. Damsel in distress?
We've never seen a damselfly actually catch a flying insect, but we did find one last weekend that was quite interested in an ant scurrying down a lavender stem. The damselfly backed up and appeared to be targeting it.
The ant, however, escaped.
Indeed, some bees seem to possess Superman's extraordinary power of "faster than a speeding bullet." They're just lacking a blue costume, a red cape and an "S" on their thorax.
The butterfly doing the fluttering in our garden is the Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, a showy reddish-orange Lepitopderan that lays its eggs on our passionflower vine (Passiflora).
The bee doing the speeding-bullet routine is the male longhorned digger bee, Melissodes agilis. They are so territorial that they claim ALL members of the sunflower family in our garden: the blanket flowers (Gallardia), the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).
They relentlessly patrol the garden and dive-bomb assorted bumble bees, carpenter bees, honey bees, sweat bees, wasps, syrphid flies, butterflies and even stray leaves that land on "their" flowers. (Their eyesight is not as good as Superman's.)
Why? They're trying to save the pollen and nectar resources for the Melissodes agilis females. And trying to entice and engage the girls.
Last Sunday we watched a Gulf Frit touch down on the Tithonia. Just as it was gathering some nectar, a speeding bullet approached.
If it were a horse, it would have been Secretariat.
If it were a track star, it would have been "Lightning Bolt" Usian St. Leo Bolt.
If it were a car, it would have been a Hennessey Venom GT.
If it were a plane, it would have been a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
Swoosh! As the longhorned digger bee rifled by, the startled Gulf Frit shot straight up. Straight up.
Frankly, the Gulf Frit could have "leaped a tall building in a single bound."
But how can you sleep when you sense a predator in your midst?
Last night, as usual, was Boys' Night Out in our lavender patch. The male longhorned digger bees, Melissodes agilis (as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis), were sleeping on a lavender stem, as the females nested underground.
The males cluster or "roost" or "camp out" on the stems from around 6 at night until 7 in the morning, and it's a sight to see. A veritable bedroom community. Our lavender patch is a living room during the day and a bedroom at night.
Curiously enough, the males are very territorial in daylight hours as they compete for the females. We've seen them dive-bomb carpenter bees, bumble bees, sweat bees, butterflies, dragonflies and the males of their own species.
But even though they battle fiercely during the day, they sleep together peacefully at night.
Lately the roosting males seem to be vanishing. We're accustomed to seeing 12 to 15 on a stem. It's dwindled down to eight or nine. Where did they go? Did they find another place? A better "bed?" More room at the inn?
So at 6:30 a.m. today, we parted the lavender stems to observe the boys. Not as many as yesterday.
Wait, what's that? Could it be? It was. A praying mantis!
And the praying mantis, looking quite emaciated, was edging toward the sleeping boys.
Easy pickings. Too easy. Would it grab one of them?
It did not.
It climbed down the lavender stem, peered at the sleeping boys--hmm, breakfast?--and then moved to another lavender stem.
Close call? Maybe. Maybe not. We've heard that praying mantids prefer moving prey and these prey weren't moving.
In the entomological world, we call that a "two-fer."
Two insects in the same photo.
Sunday morning we spotted a fiery skipper butterfly (Hylephila phyleus) on an artichoke leaf. It was warming its flight muscles, maybe to flutter over to the lavender for a sip of nectar.
Next to it--we almost missed it--was a damselfly, apparently doing the same thing. Or maybe it was waiting for an aphid or a gnat or ant to come along. They eat small, soft-bodied insects.
The skipper: a member of the family Hesperiidae, order Lepidoptera.
The damselfly: a member of the suborder Zygoptera, order Odonata.
Two entirely different orders, but both belonging to the class Insecta.
And sharing an artichoke leaf on a Sunday morning.
An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but thankfully, they don't keep our bees away. The blossoms, that is. We need those pollinators!
During National Pollinator Week, June 16-22, it's a good idea to pay tribute to the apple.
If you've ever photographed a bee on an apple blossom, then captured an image of apples hanging from the branches, and then aimed your camera at a basket of apples, you can easily see the connection from A (apple) to B (bounty), thanks to our bees.
Apples (Malus domestica of the rose family, Rosaceae) is an ancient fruit, originating from Central Asia. In fact, you can still find its wild ancestor Malus sieversii, there today, according to Wikipedia.
Pomologists tell us that there are now more than 7500 cultivates of apples.
Apples are not only bee business but big business. "About 69 million tons of apples were grown worldwide in 2010, and China produced almost half of this total," Wikipedia tells us. "The United States is the second-leading producer, with more than 6 percent of world production. Turkey is third, followed by Italy, India and Poland.”
Hats off to the pollinators!