It's almost time for Halloween, when all self-respecting little ghosts, goblins and ghouls take a special interest in spiders.
We saw this little jumping spider (below) on a pink rose. It doesn't look like it could scare anything--except for maybe a sweat bee or hover fly.
This year the Explorit Science Center of Davis, a hands-on science museum located at 3141 5th St., is taking a special interest in spiders.
The center is sponsoring a number of programs on these critters and posted "Facts About Spiders" on its website.
For one thing, many people think spiders are insects. They're not.
Both spiders and insects are invertebrates, but spiders are not insects.
Insects have a head, thorax and abdomen, and the thorax has three pairs of legs. They also eyes, antennae and mouthparts, the Explorit Science Center website points out. "The entire body is protected by a tough outer covering called an exoskeleton. Animals that share these characteristics are called insects. The group to which they belong is called the Insecta."
Spiders, as the Explorit Science Center explains, have two main body parts. "The body consists of a combined head and thorax called the cephalothorax, and the abdomen. The cephalothorax has the eyes, mouthparts (no antennae) and four pairs of legs. Animals that share these characteristics include ticks, mites, scorpions and spiders. The group is called the Arachnida."
And speaking of spiders, schooolchildren visiting the Bohart Museum of Entomology on the UC Davis campus occasionally ask to "see the spiders." The Bohart is an insect museum (although the officials have been known to showcase a few spiders, too.)
Mark your calendar for Saturday, Oct. 27 for the Bohart's public open house from 1 to 4 p.m. in 1124 Academic Surge on Crocker Drive (nearest intersection is LaRue Road.) This is a pre-Halloween open house and there definitely will be assorted spiders at the insect museum!
If you're trying to rear some Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on your passion flower vine, but the caterpillars seem to be doing a disappearing act, check the leaves.
You might find some assassin bug nymphs.
They look like little cartoon characters as they prowl the leaves, looking for prey.
That prey includes caterpillars.
These assassin bug nymphs, as identified by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, are memorable. The nymphs (family Reduviidae and genus Zelus) on our Passiflora have beady eyes, narrow necks, needlelike beaks, long legs, and I swear, a perennial quizzical look. They're beneficial insects when they eat leafhoppers, aphids and other pests. They're good to have in your garden.
They're not so beneficial when they eat other beneficial insects like lacewings.
Or, when they eat the larvae stages of Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae)--if you're trying to rear a few of these beautiful reddish-orange butterflies.
We've seen adult assassin bugs grab spotted cucumber beetles, inject a lethal saliva, and then suck their bodily fluids with their long feeding tube (rostrum).
We haven't seen one actually prey on a Gulf Frit caterpillar, though.
The folks at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis,call them "jungle gems."
And "gems" they are.
They were recently featured at a Bohart Museum open house.
A sign next to them read: "They pollinate orchids. They also probably have the best memory of any insect. The males memorize the location of all the orchid plants in their patch of forest and visit them periodically during the day."
The "jungle gems" are just a few of the treasures that visitors can see at the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of Academic Surge. The building is on Crocker Avenue (formerly California Avenue). The nearest intersection is LaRue Road.
The Bohart houses a global collection of more than seven million insect specimens and is the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It is also the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum in 1946.
The Bohart is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. It is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
To allow more visitors to attend, the museum holds a weekend open house once a month. The next weekend open house is set from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 27. The theme, in keeping with Halloween, is "Insects of Death."
Stay tuned on what's planned!
Oh, the life of a praying mantis...
You can hang upside down like an acrobat, shading yourself from the sun while waiting for prey and avoiding predators. You can crawl beneath dense leaves, the better to ambush, snatch and eat an unsuspecting bee. And you can mate with a fine-looking specimen like yourself and produce some more fine-looking specimens.
Life doesn't get any better than this if you're a praying mantis. (Unless, of course, you're a male mantid and the female practices sexual cannibalism. Or, if you're a newly emerged offspring and your brothers and sisters are feasting on one another and then...eyeing you.)
Finding praying mantids is not so easy. Sometimes the slightest movement in the leaves will reveal their location. Sometimes when you water a plant, they'll emerge, looking quite irritated--if mantids can look irritated. Other times they're blatantly perched on top of a blossom or lurking beneath it.
Up until recently, we'd never actually seen them mating. But there they were that warm midsummer day on Sept. 17 in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven doing just that. See, the praying mantids like to hang out in the bee garden because that's where the bees are. The half-acre garden is located next to bee research hives at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
Ah, we thought, a "lover-ly" photo to add to the educational collection of Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
So, we took a few photos, being careful not to interrupt them.
If this were a documentary being filmed about the birds 'n the bees, can't you just hear it? The Cole Porter hit, "Let's Do It," softly playing in the background:
...And that's why birds do it
Bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love.
All the while, the Cleveland or blue sage (Clevelandi salvia) stirs with life. A hummingbird, honey bees and carpenter bees drop down to investigate the blossoms and sip a little nectar. A garden spider patrols its sticky web. A scared lizard darts into the shadows.
Ants lumber by with their heavy loads. No sign of any "educated fleas," though.
When I was teaching photography, I encouraged my students to go for the angles--from a bug's eye view to a bird's eye view. Holding a camera chest-high or at eye level renders the "same-o, same o" photos.
Yet another creative way to see the world is through a fisheye lens. With its 180-degree ultra-wide view,it grants a whole new perspective.
American physicist/inventor Robert W. Wood coined the term, "fisheye," in 1906, according to Wikipedia. He imagined "how a fish would see an ultra-wide hemispherical view from beneath the water (a phenomenon known as Snell's window)."
What does the raised bed of Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) in the Häagen-Honey Bee Haven at the University of California, Davis, look like with a fisheye lens?
Colorful, disorted, startling, intriguing.
Meanwhile, the volunteers who tend the pollinator garden every Friday morning are adding the finishing touches for the public open house, set Saturday afternoon, Sept. 15.
It's part of the Bohart Museum of Entomology's two concurrent open houses, themed "Flower Lovers: the Bees." Both will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 15. One is at the museum itself at 1124 Academic Surge on Crocker Lane, and the other, at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
They are free and open to the public.
The museum will showcase bee specimens from around the world, and offer crafts activities. At the haven, plans call for a focus on honey bees, native bees, beekeeping, garden tours, and crafts activities. And a focus on the permanent art in the garden, the spectacular work of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program.
Saturday's activities at the haven also will include a recognition ceremony at 1:30 p.m. for Derek Tully, 17, of Davis. He will be honored for his Eagle Scout project, building a fence around the half-acre garden. Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis, will preside.
It's a good day to bring a camera! But then, isn't every day a good day to bring a camera?