Oh, the critters we overlook.
If you have flowering artichokes, expect to see honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees and syrphid flies foraging on them. And a few spiders waiting for dinner.
Don't expect to see a mayfly.
The mayfly habitat is in or around water. Fly fishers use artificial lures that look like mayflies and other aquatic insects.
This tiny mayfly (below) was perched on a flowering artichoke, about 15 feet from our fish pond.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, says it's from the family, Baetidae.
Worldwide, the Baetid family has about 900 described species. The Baetids are unique in that they're among the smallest of the mayflies. In general, adult mayflies have a short lifespan, often living just a day. They're in the order Ephemeroptera (ephemeros is Greek for short-lived, and pteron means wing).
Michael Parrella, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, teaches "Entomology for the Fly-Fisher" every spring quarter. The course focus: "insect life in the aquatic ecosystem; methods and mechanics of fly fishing; what you need to know to match the hatch; and enhancing the fly-fishing experience for the novice and experienced angler."
Parrella, an avid fly fisherman, taught entomology and fly-fishing classes while on a six-month sabbatical last year in Chile.
Chances are he never encountered a mayfly perched on a flowering artichoke!
Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, surrounds herself with more than seven million insect specimens in the museum, plus a few live ones (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula) in her "petting zoo."
Kimsey identifies about 800 bugs a year.
"I probably do four to five identifications a day (for the general public) between email, phone, mail and walk-ins; maybe 400 a year--I lose track," she said. “Probably another 400 or so for colleagues in my research groups--tiphiid and chrysidid wasps.”
The most common ID question? “Spiders--brown recluse or not, mostly," she said. Carpenter bees come in a strong second. The male Valley carpenter bee is often mistaken for a "golden bumble bee." (Both are pollinators.)
So when Holly Millener of Oroville, Butte County, spotted a strange-looking bug on her lilies, she posted an image on Facebook with a "what-is-it?" query.
“They’re everywhere,” noted Millener, who lives on Kelly Ridge near Lake Oroville.
The "mystery bug" drew guesses on and off-line. Elderberry bug, boxelder bug, soapberry bug, squash bug, milkweed bug, stink bug...
“I have one that looks kinda like that out here except where the yellow (orange) is, it’s red," answered a friend. "Those keep eating the leaves on my squash."
“I have a female boxelder tree and they are all around my yard,” wrote another. “They are a nuisance.”
A UC Master Gardener proclaimed it a boxelder bug and kindly posted a link to the UC IPM Management Guidelines.
Other Facebook friends differed.
“I believe they are stink bugs.”
“Valley elderberry longhorn beetle?"
“I don’t know, but we had them EVERYWHERE when we lived in Chico and Durham.”
Wait, is there an entomologist in the house?
Kimsey to the rescue.
“This is a largid in the group of insects called bordered plant bugs,” Kimsey said when we emailed her Millener's photo. Family: Largidae. Genus: Largus.
Mystery solved. It's a bordered plant bug, so named because of the characteristic orange border around its shield, directly behind the head and outlining the abdomen.
This insect sucks plant juices. It attacks a wide variety of plants, appearing especially fond of Asteraceae, the sunflower family. It is known to overwinter in cracks and crevices around the home.
By the way, Kimsey's skills at identifying insects drew international attention in a landmark case in which she identified insects and their locale from the radiator of a rental car driven by a 44-year-old murder suspect. The Bakersfield jury ended up convicting the defendant, a former vice principal, of five counts of first-degree murder in the July 2003 shooting and stabbing deaths of his estranged wife, three children and mother-in-law.
Kimsey knows her bugs.
We've seen bumble bees, honey bees, sweat bees, wool carder bees and syrphid flies topple into our swimming pool, but never an alfalfa butterfly until now.
This male alfalfa butterfly--the gender identified by noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis--bumbled into our pool early one morning. Not sure why it fell into the pool. It spiraled over the catmint, fluttered over the pool, and then dropped into the water. Not very gracefully, either.
We netted it and placed it on a flowering artichoke so it could rest a bit and dry its wings.
The alfalfa butterfly, Colias eurytheme (common name "orange sulphur" or "alfalfa butterfly") is a significant pest of alfalfa, Shapiro says on his website, Art's Butterfly World. It "overwinters as a larva almost entirely in annual vetch at low altitudes, and colonizes alfalfa only as the vetch senesces in May-June. Aside from alfalfa and annual vetches, it also breeds on a variety of clovers and sweet clovers and occasionally on lupines."
"An oddity of sulphurs is that their orange and yellow pteridine pigments are water-soluble," Shapiro told us today. "Had it remained in the water long enough, its scales would have been leached to translucency."
And, he pointed out, "Colias that sit out in the alfalfa during overhead irrigation regularly get water-spotted."
This one not only survived but so did its colors.
Pity the poor worker bee.
In the spring/summer months, she lives only four to six weeks and then she dies. Bee scientists say she basically works herself to death.
For the first half of her short life, she works inside the hive, tending to the brood, feeding the queen and drones, processing the food, building and repairing the nest, and completing other responsibilities, all in total darkness. In the second half of her life, she leaves the hive, emerging from the total darkness to the bright light. Weather permitting, she'll forage every day for food, propolis or water for the colony.
You've probably noticed these older foragers, with tattered wings, scarred bodies and hairless thoraxes, foraging among the flowers. Those tattered wings could be the result of predators that missed: spiders, dragonflies, grasshoppers, dogs, birds and the like.
Worker bees do not fly well with flawed wings and they're even more susceptible to those crafty jumping spiders lurking in the flowers.
So it's interesting to read the recently published research by scientists at the Arizona State University and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, research that shows that older honey bees experience reverse brain aging when they return to working inside the hive.
Writing in the journal, Experimental Gerontology, the researchers related that they tricked the older, foraging bees into returning to the hive to perform the social tasks of the younger bees.
In an ASU news release: Gro Amdam, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, said: “We knew from previous research that when bees stay in the nest and take care of larvae--the bee babies--they remain mentally competent for as long as we observe them. However, after a period of nursing, bees fly out gathering food and begin aging very quickly. After just two weeks, foraging bees have worn wings, hairless bodies, and more importantly, lose brain function--basically measured as the ability to learn new things. We wanted to find out if there was plasticity in this aging pattern so we asked the question, What would happen if we asked the foraging bees to take care of larval babies again?"
Well, they found that the older bees that returned to the hive seemed to recover their ability to learn, and that the protein in the bee brains changed for the better.
"When comparing the brains of the bees that improved relative to those that did not, two proteins noticeably changed," the news release said. "They found Prx6, a protein also found in humans that can help protect against dementia--including diseases such as Alzheimer’s--and they discovered a second and documented 'chaperone' protein that protects other proteins from being damaged when brain or other tissues are exposed to cell-level stress."
In some respects, you could almost say that stay-at-home moms are better off than the work-outside-the-home moms, but (1) worker bees are not moms, and (2) both are working. The queen lays the eggs, as many as 2000 eggs a day during peak season. The worker bees are females, but their ovaries are tiny and normally non-functional, says Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees.
Still, we can imagine that this fascinating bee science research could lead to another tool to investigate dementia in elderly humans.
Jumping spiders have to eat, but do they have to snag the bees?
Last weekend as we were checking the lavender patch in our yard, we noticed something partially hidden--and moving--on a post.
It was a jumping spider eating a honey bee. Later in the afternoon, the same jumping spider snared a sweat bee.
If you have flower patches in your yard--and you should, to attract the pollinators--you will also attract the predators.
Fortunately, they don't eat as much as Joey "Jaws" Chestnut of San Jose, the hot-dog eating champion of the world.