It's a bug-eat-bug world out there.
Today we watched a syrphid fly, aka "hover fly" and "flower fly," circling a blanket flower (Gaillardia) and then touching down to sip a little nectar.
Syrphids are called "hover flies" for good reason. They "hover" over a blossom, helicoperlike. They're often mistaken for bees but to the trained eye, they really look nothing alike. Folks confuse them because both bees and syrphids are floral visitors and both are pollinators.
If it's a floral visitor, it must be a bee, right? Wrong.
Anyway, this syrphid touched down on the blossom to sip nectar, its wings glinting in the early morning sun. Finally, it spotted the danger, a jumping spider lurking on the other side. The crafty predator lunged. Missed!
When we returned a few minutes later, however, we saw the jumping spider beneath the petals, feasting on the syrphid.
Quickness is an attribute--whether you're a jumping spider or a syrphid.
If you want to learn more about flower flies, read entomologist Robert Bugg's "Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops" (Publication 8285, May 2008, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.)
At first they appeared on our pomegranate tree, our 85-year-old pomegranate tree.
Then they migrated over to our passion flower vine, Passiflora, where we're trying to rear Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae).
They're leaffooted bug nymphs, Leptoglossus clypealis.
They look like little cartoon characters,
They have beady eyes, narrow necks, needlelike beaks, long legs, and I swear, a perennial quizzical look.
Saturday morning cartoon characters?
One thing's for certain--a praying mantis does not like to get wet.
If it were human, it would not dip a toe in the water and yell to its friends: "C'mon in, the water's fine!"
Water is not fine--not to a praying mantis.
While watering the tomato plants recently, we discovered a praying mantis beneath the leaves. Looking quite defensive, it emerged from its hiding place, not to prey but to check out the spray.
Then it quietly slipped back beneath the leaves, its long khaki-colored body looking quite conspicuous against a solid green background.
P. Mantis took a few minutes to remove the water droplets and then clumsily flew away.
Enough of that water bath!
If you've never been to a UC Davis Arboretum plant sale, you should.
The last plant sale of the year will take place Sunday, Oct. 14 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive.
If you're looking for plants that will attract bees, or plants that will attract butterflies, or plants that will attract both, experienced gardeners there can help you. Check out their inventory.
Nearby is the Nature's Gallery Court Mural, showcasing plants found in the Storer Garden and the insects that gravitate toward them. The mural is the work of the UC Davis Art/ Science Fusion Program, co-founded and co-directed by entomologist/artist Diane Ullman and artist Donna Billick.
If you take a stroll through the nearby Storer Garden, you'll see such plants as white flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa "Contorta"), cenizio (Leucophyllum frutescens) and winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum).
The honey bees love 'em.
What's that caterpillar?
This little fellow (or gal) was munching--quite contentedly, thank you--on the leaves of an aspen tree.
The homeowner didn't take too kindly to the critter defoliating his prized tree, newly purchased in Oregon and newly planted in Vacaville, Calif., so he asked us what it was.
"Smerinthus cerisyi, an exceedingly beautiful sphingid (nocturnal) with eyespots," he said. "Pupates in the ground and will emerge next April or May. Not native in Vacaville but fairly common in upland Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties and in the Sierra, Siskiyous, etc."
Shapiro surmised that the "eggs could have come in from Oregon."
So if you, too, have an aspen in your yard and are wondering what these little critters are, they will grow into a beautiful "One-Eyed Sphinx Moth" or "Cerisy's Sphinx"--if you let them.
"I encourage someone to rear them out rather than kill them," Shapiro says. "They actually won't harm the tree significantly. They'll also eat cottonwood and non-woolly willow foliage (not sandbar willow)."