If I were in charge of a praying mantis' daily diet, I would enforce one stringent rule: "Please don't eat the pollinators! Do not, I repeat, target the bees or butterflies. Leave them alone!"
The mundane menu would include flies, gnats, stink bugs, aphids, mosquitoes, yellowjackets, grasshoppers, leaffooted bugs and not much else.
But since I'm not likely to be employed as the chef of a praying mantis' diet, these predators can--and do--eat what they want.
This morning I encountered a praying mantis perched on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in our bee garden. He saw me. He swiveled his head about 180 degrees as he followed me with his five keen eyes--two large compound eyes and three smaller simple eyes. Hmm, not potential prey. He went about "praying"--bending his front legs and "assuming the position."
Okay, I thought. "Go catch a fly, gnat, stink bug, aphid, mosquito, yellowjacket, grasshopper or leaffooted bug."
So, what did he catch? A beautiful Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) which made the fatal mistake of landing on his flower.
Yes, a praying mantis has to eat. Yes, he was hungry. Yes, it's nature. But why not a stink bug?
He polished off a butterfly.
"Yummy!" declared a colleague.
Say the word “wings” to folks who attend fairs and festivals and they may think of something to eat--buffalo wings or chicken wings.
But if you head over to McCormack Hall at the Solano County Fair, Vallejo, you'll be thinking of insect flight.
Flight of butterflies and moths. And maybe a ladybug or two.
Butterflies grace wall hangings, quilts and t-shirts and also appear in photographs and arts and crafts projects. You'll also encounter other bugs, including a moth (photograph), and a youngster's educational display board about spiders. (For those who aren't fond of spiders, these are illustrations.)
The 65th annual fair, themed "Cruisin' the County," opened Wednesday, July 30 and ends on Sunday, Aug. 3. The theme spotlights classic and unique cars.
Gloria Gonzalez, superintendent of the McCormack Hall building, and her crew have done a marvelous job setting up and displaying the many exhibits, which range from youth photos, preserved foods, and baked goods to quilts, special collections and arts and crafts projects.
Among the special butterfly and moth attractions we spotted:
- "Butterfly Lovers," a hand-and-machine quilted wall hanging by Tina Waycie of Vallejo
- "Butterflies," a needlepoint (stamped cross-stitchery) by Marlo Wilson of Vallejo, adult division
- "Butterfly T-Shirt," a textile project by Leslie Dunham of PACE Solano, adult division
- "Flying Wing," a machine-quilted wall hanging by Suzanne Ruiter of Fairfield, adult division
- "Moth," a photo by 9-year-old Maximilian Burgess-Shannon of Benicia
Gloria Gonzalez, a longtime 4-H leader (she's the co-community leader of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo) kept busy finishing up the displays last Sunday. Among those assisting were Sharon Payne, past president of the Solano County 4-H Leaders' Council and the superintendent of the youth exhibit building at the Dixon May Fair; Gloria's daughter, Angelina Gonzalez, who leads the arts and crafts project for Sherwood Forest; and their colleague Iris Mahew of American Canyon.
Angelina, who recently received her master's degree in sociology from Sacramento State, is also the Solano County representative to the Statewide 4-H SET (science, engineering and technology) Program. (By the way, she's also a great cook--her caramel cookies won best of show.)
Fairs are all about informing, educating and entertaining--not necessarily in that order. They are a place where you can browse through the exhibit halls, enjoy the carnival rides, check out the 4-H and FFA livestock and the junior livestock auction, attend a free concert, and eat a bacon-wrapped hot dog. (Actually, I think something vegetarian sounds better!)
We're especially glad to see the insect-themed exhibits in McCormack Hall. It's not just vehicles that "cruise" the county or parts of the county.
Insects do, too.
Bee scientists, beekeepers and bee photographers so love their bees that they can't get enough of them.
So when the international Association for Communication Excellence (ACE), comprised of communicators, educators and information technologists in agriculture, natural resources, and life and human sciences, issued a call for feature photos for its annual Critique & Awards Program, I thought why not?
Why not enter the photo of UC Davis visiting bee scientist Jakub Gabka of Poland wearing his bee beard? Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, now of Washington State University, loves to do bee beard events, so one day, after hours, she set up a private bee beard event on the grounds of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. A handful of beekeepers gleefully participated in an event meant to inform, educate and entertain.
Talk about getting close to the bees!
Jakub Gabka's reaction was priceless. Check out the eyes!
That's the photo I entered in the feature category. The judge awarded it first place (gold), scoring it 97 points out of a possible 100, and commented: "Wow! This is a show-stopper. Depending on your relationship with bees, this can either make you laugh or cause you to go into anaphylactic shock. The photographer did almost everything right here. From the position of the bees (Is that one going to crawl into his mouth?) to the expression on the subject's face, this is nearly perfect. Because I don't believe in perfection, I'd ask only that the flesh tones be a little warmer. Other than, great image."
ACE presented the awards at its recent Portland (Ore.) conference, and the University of California communicators hauled home quite a few of them.
Other awards: yours truly received a gold for “best writing on the web” for the Bug Squad blog, "Thankful for Insects" and a bronze (third-place) award for "Looking Back at 2013, featuring a few favorite photos from 2013.
Steve Heindl, Marissa Stein and Ray Lucas of Communication Services & Information Technology won gold in the Educational Package category for the online “Introduction to Forest Management” course they produced for Rick Standiford, UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley.
For promotional videos, ACE awarded silver for the UC Cooperative Extension centennial video. The video was produced by the UC Office of the President's multimedia team of Jessica Wheeler, Zach Long and Larissa Branin with direction from Pam Kan-Rice and Cynthia Kintigh of the UC ANR Communication Services and Information Technology (CSIT).
“Grape Pest Management, Third Edition” won a silver award for technical publications for Larry J. Bettiga, UCCE Extension viticulture advisor in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties, as technical editor, and CSIT editors Steve Barnett and Hazel White and CSIT designers Robin Walton and Will Suckow. They also received a bronze award for the reference book's design in the 2014 PubWest Book Design Award.
Congratulations to them all!
We're receiving lots of inquiries about sleepovers ever since we began posting images of male longhorned bees, Melissodes agilis, sleeping on our lavender.
Boys' Night Out!
While the females sleep in their underground nests, the males cluster on stems. No, they don't have pillow fights or nightcaps but they do wiggle around a lot until they get comfortable.
Now the boys have moved from their favorite spot on the lavender (vertical sleepover) to the guara (horizontal sleepover). We suspect this may be due to several reasons: (1) The presence of three praying mantids in the lavender (2) the lavender is fading while the guara is flourishing and (3) the guara offers a definite height advantage, which may deter a few predators (but not birds).
Nevertheless, the boys start arriving for their nightly sleepover around 5 p.m. and don't budge until around 7 p.m., sometimes as late as 9 or 10.
One reader asked some interesting questions.
"There is a nightly cluster of boys on an aster stem in my front yard and I wanted to find out more about them. In particular, do they/can they/will they sting?"
No, boys don't sting--just the girls. As native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, explains: "Boy bees cannot sting. They lack a stinger which is a modified ovipositor in their wasp ancestors. Occasionally a girl bee may spend the night out if she is caught by sudden drop in temperature. Usually she will not be part of a group sleep over. So don't attempt to handle unless you are confident you can tell boy bees from girl bees or they are too sleepy to defend themselves."
The reader also asked: "Typically how close to the girls' nest(s) do the boys' slumber? I want to try and make sure I don't touch it when planting at end of summer."
Says Thorp: "Boy sleeping aggregations are based on a suitable perch and not related to where females are nesting, but probably no more than 100 yards from the nearest female nest. Females nest in the ground and have rather distinctive round holes about the diameter of a pencil or slightly smaller, sometimes with small piles of dirt around them looking like mini-volcanos. The holes may be widely separated or clustered together depending on the species, but each female digs her own burrow."
Of course, not all slumbering bees in this area are Melissodes agilis, as Thorp points out. Some may be other species of the genus Melissodes and some may belong to the closely related Svastra obliqua.
The reader also wondered: "When watching the boys tonight, about ten of them started waking up and kicking each other. They finally settled down and started to nestle back in for the 'night'--it was only 6 p.m.--but I wasn't sure if my presence was getting them riled or they tend to act like kids sharing a bed?"
Says Thorp: "The boys usually settle in as the light dims in the evening. Cool, and drizzly conditions may modify bed time. Each establishes his own spot, so there may be some jostling for position initially."
We've noticed that, too. We've also noticed that the early morning risers--the carpenter bees, bumble bees, honey bees and syrphid flies--work around the slumbering Melissodes agilis. All that buzzing must sound like the human version of a chainsaw. "Will ya shaddup, already? Can't you see we're trying to sleep?"
Once the boys awaken, though, watch out! They'll dive-bomb the pollinators or any critter working or resting on "their" flowers. They're very territorial and determined to save the food source for the females of their species. The butterflies, including the Western tiger swallowtail, anise swallowtail, Gulf Fritillary and cabbage whites, don't linger when the boys target them.
And speaking of California bees, we're eagerly awaiting the arrival of the book, California Blooms and Bees: an Identification Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists. It's co-authored by research entomologist/professor Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley; Thorp (who received his doctorate from UC Berkeley); and their UC Berkeley affiliates, photographer/entomologist Rollin Coville and floral/herbarium curator Barbara Ertter.
More than 1600 species of undomesticated bees call California their home. The authors focus on 22 of the most common genera and the flowers they frequent.
Meanwhile, you'll want to check out Frankie's UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab website to read more about native bees and his exciting research.
Bumble bees and spiders don't mix, you say?
Well, they will at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, July 26. The family-centered event, free and open to the public, takes place in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.
Actually the theme is about spiders: "Arachnids: Awesome or Awful?" There you'll see black widow spiders, jumping spiders, cellar spiders and the like. But you don't have to "like" them as you do posts on Facebook!
You can also learn about bumble bees. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, will be one of the tour guides. Thorp co-authored the newly published Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide, which is available in the Bohart gift shop. He can autograph your book and answer questions about how to attract bees to your garden.
Thorp was recently interviewed by Tom Oder of the Mother Nature Network on how to garden for bumble bees. So was Steve Buchmann, an adjunct professor in entomology and ecology at the University of Arizona.
Thorp told Mother Nature Network that some bumble bees are in very serious decline, and others are doing quite well.
So, how do you attract them to your garden? Buchmann was quoted as saying: “Gardening for bumblebees is similar to gardening for other bees and pollinators." To entice bumblebees to visit your garden, “plant mints, Salvia, Monarda, plants in the sunflower family and clovers."
Read Oder's article for more information.
And keep your eyes open for the soon-to-be-published California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, co-authored by entomologist Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley, Thorp, and two others with UC Berkeley connections: photographer/entomologist Rollin Coville and floral curator Barbara Ertter.
As for Saturday, July 26 there won't be a vote on whether you like bumble bees or spiders better, nor will you be asked to sing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" or "Baby Bumble Bee." It promises, though, to be fun and educational. Plus, you can enjoy the live "petting zoo," featuring 24-year-old Rosie the tarantula, assorted walking sticks, and the colorful Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Yes, they hiss.
The gift shop is also popular. You can browse through the books, jewelry, t-shirts, sweatshirts, insect-themed candy, butterfly houses, and insect-collecting kits.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses nearly eight 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 insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum.
The museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. It's closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free. For more information, email education and outreach coordinator Tabatha Yang at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone her at (530) 752-0493.