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.
So agreed the visitors attending the open house and recognition ceremony last Saturday, Sept. 15 at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre pollinator garden next to the UC Davis Department of Entomology's Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility)
They toured the garden, listened to the recognition ceremony, and joined the garden tour, admiring the plants and art work by the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program. They left feeling that this is indeed a very special place on earth.
The recognition ceremony paid tribute to Derek Tully, 17, of Davis, who, as his Eagle Scout project, built a state-of-the-art fence around the garden.
The fence is "fabulous," Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, told the gathering at the 1:30 p.m. recognition ceremony. Kimsey served as the faculty liaison for the Eagle Scout project.
Kimsey recounted how Tully, a member of Troop 111, planned and built the post-and-rail fence with the help of a 33-member volunteer crew that he organized and supervised.
Tully launched the project April 2 and completed it Sept. 7. The fence builders included his father, Larry Tully, a retired machinist from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Larry and his wife, Leslie Woodhouse, a research support supervisor at the USDA Western Human Nutrition Research Center on the UC Davis campus, serve as assistant scoutmasters of Troop 111.
Tully recruited greenhouse superintendent Garry Pearson, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, who augured the holes for the fence posts. The project required 91 fence posts, 211 2x4s, 46 2x6 railings (each 20 feet long), four yards of gravel, 18 bags of concrete, and 12 rolls of wiring at 100 feet each.
The post-and-rail fence is wire-meshed, with the wire extending underground to inhibit jackrabbits, ground squirrels and pocket gophers from turning it into their version of Mr. McGregor's garden.
Derek negotiated with area businesses to obtain discounted prices. The total cost of materials: $6300. The number of volunteer hours: 488 hours and 15 minutes. Kimsey estimated that the project saved the department $24,000 to $30,000.
In building the fence, the crew toiled in triple-digit temperatures as bees (from the adjacent Laidlaw facility) and butterflies and other insects nectared the flowers. Occasionally as the volunteers nailed boards to the fence, praying mantids and spiders engaged in their own kind of nailing--nailing bees.
If you visit the garden, located on Bee Biology Road, off Hutchison Drive/Hopkins Road, west of the central campus, you'll not only see "The Fence that Derek Built" but plants, predators and prey that form the very microcosm of this pollinator garden.
How blue can it be?
We spotted a metallic blue bug, one of nature's most amazing colors, last Sunday.
It was in the Mostly Natives Nursery in Tomales, a Marin County site frequented by many University of California entomologists and staff as they work on their urban bee research and publications. They come by to check out the native plants and the insects.
This blue bug was crawling up and down a Euphorbia (genus Euphorbia, family Euphorbiaceae), an unusual plant in itself because it appears to have green blossoms.
What was this bug?
We asked Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the UC Davis. Kimsey surrounds herself with more than seven million insect specimens, and I swear she can recite the genus and species of everyone of them.
(At least we all think so!)
So, what was this bug?
She and senior museum scientist Steve Heydon initially identified it as a juvenile harlequin bug, family Pentatomidae. Kimsey later said--and confirmed--that it's a bordered plant bug, family Largidae.
How blue can it be?