The feather-legged fly looks as if it were formed by a committee.
It's about the size of a house fly, but there the similarity ends.
Black head and thorax, hind legs fringed with a "comb" of short black hairs, and an abdomen that's the color of honey--bright orange honey.
It's one of those insects that prompts folks (including many entomologists) to ask: "What's THAT?"
We took a photo of "what's THAT?" yesterday on a Yolo County farm. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, identified it as family Tachinidae, genus Tichopoda and species, probably T. pennipes.
It's a parasitoid. The female lays her eggs inside squash bugs, stink bugs and other agricultural pests.
It was probably introduced here from Europe. Squash growers and other farmers employ it as a biological control agent.
To us, it appears to be a double agent: distinctive and deadly.
Don't let that honey-colored abdomen fool you...
To attract honey bees to your garden, it's a good idea to let the artichokes flower.
Sure, you could pick them for your dinner, but you'd be depriving honey bees of theirs.
At the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis, the artichokes are beginning to flower. The haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden, is a demonstration garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road.
It's open from dawn to dusk (no admission fee). The key goals of the garden are to provide bees with a year-around food source, to raise public awareness about the plight of honey bees, and to encourage visitors to plant bee-friendly gardens of their own. It also serves as a research garden.
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven is a treasure, and fulfilling the needs of bees adds to that treasure.
Honey bees in the pink?
If you plant rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora), a perennial succulent, be prepared for a posse of honey bees.
Our rock purslane is drawing so many bees that you'd never know there's a declining bee population and that there's a new sheriff (colony collapse disorder) in town.
They buzz, two or three at a time, toward a single blossom, and lug huge red pollen loads back to their hives.
We're glad to see there's so much interest in bees. A documentary making the rounds now is Queen of the Sun, an advocacy film probably playing in a theater near you. It's playing in Davis June 17 through June 23 at the Varsity Theater, downtown Davis. We saw it at a personal showing at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis a few weeks ago. The photography is stunning. Just as we prepared to watch it, one of the bee folks quipped: "This is a bee-rated movie."
For a good look at bee behavior, there's an online video titled "Bee Talker: The Secret World of Bees." Bee behaviorist Mark Winston, professor of biological sciences at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, B.C., guides us "beyond the biology of the creatures to show us that our honey-producing neighbors have broader implications for humans and the plant.”
For another good look at bee behavior, step out into your yard. (That is, if you have bee plants in your yard.) "Won't the bees sting you?" some folks ask. No worries. These bees are foraging. They're not defending their colony.
Nature has none. Zip. Zero. Zilch.
The Xerces Blue Butterfly, which once thrived on the San Francisco Peninsula before urbanization chased it away, is extinct.
There are no more. It “lives” only as specimens in several insect museums, including the Bohart Museum on the UC Davis campus.
Scientists at the Bohart Museum are spotlighting it on a t-shirt in an effort to draw attention to the fact that we need to protect our threatened and endangered species, or they, too, will become extinct like the Xerces Blue.
The t-shirt spreads the “E” word (Extinction). Lettered above the image of the dazzling blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces) are the words: “And Then There Were None.”
“Some folks have asked us why we created a t-shirt featuring an extinct butterfly,” said t-shirt designer Fran Keller, a doctoral candidate in entomology based at the Bohart. “It not only makes the public aware of the fragility of insects but also shows how much research is still needed to be aware of the interactions between humans and insects and the overall impact his has on the environment.”
“The concept,” Keller said, “is that we will lose what we don’t know we have.”
Davis naturalist-photographer Greg Kareofelas made the images from specimens locked away in the Bohart Museum.
The butterfly, endemic to the San Francisco Peninsula, was first described and documented in 1852. Scientists believe it became extinct in the early 1940s due to human disturbance: loss of habitat caused by urban development.
The butterfly drew its name from the French spelling of "Xerxes," the name of Persian kings Xerxes I and Xerxes II of the fifth century BC.
Entomologist W. Harry Lange (1912-2004) unknowingly collected what is now considered the last known specimen. Lange, who donated some 1 million insect specimens to the museum during his entomological career, collected it at the Presidio military base on March 23, 1941. He later reportedly lamented “I always thought there would be more. I was wrong.”
Only a few U.S. museums, including the Bohart Museum, California Academy of Sciences and the Harvard Museum of Natural History, have specimens of the Xerces Blue (family Lycaenidae), Keller said.
The Bohart Museum, home of more than seven million insect specimens, houses the seventh largest insect collection in North America and is dedicated to teaching, research and service. Founded in 1946 by UC Davis entomologist Richard M. Bohart and now directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, the museum aims to educate the public about insect diversity, conservation and preservation as part of its mission.
The T-shirt is available online and at the Bohart Museum, 1124 Academic Surge, California Drive, UC Davis campus.
So are researchers from the Thomas Scott lab at UC Davis.
Scott, a medical entomologist who directs the state-funded UC Mosquito Research Laboratory, and his field director Amy Morrison, based in Iquitos, Peru, know their foe well.
Their goal: to save lives through research, surveillance and implementation of disease prevention strategies.
Morrison talked about the research efforts today on National Public Radio (NPR).
Morrison told Charles: ""What's fascinating to me about aegypti is it's probably the mosquito that's most closely associated with human beings, and the most adapted to human beings."
The tiger-striped mosquito, is a daybiting mosquito that prefers human blood. Some 2.5 to 3 billion people, primarily in tropical and sub-tropical countries around the world, are at risk for dengue, which Scott describes as "the world's worst insect-transmitted disease." See feature on him on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website, with links to significant research work.
Aedes aegypti is out for blood. And so are the UC Davis-based researchers tracking it.