So there she was, flattened out on the patio on Mother's Day, and barely moving.
Vito, our curious canine, paused, sniffed, and then walked away. He was not at all interested.
But I was.
This was a first--the first time I've seen a black saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) dragonfly in our Vacaville garden. They're easy to identify, what with the black saddlebags at their proximal ends. Bohart Museum associate Greg Kareofelas identified the gender. Greg knows dragonflies!
This dragonfly is a glider and apparently doesn't perch much. Its habitat: marshy ponds, lakes, ditches and slow streams. We have none of those in our yard, but we do have a fish pond.
And a dog that sniffed out the black saddlebags.
Scientists tell us that North America is home to seven species of saddlebags, family Libellulidae (skimmers) and genus Tramea (saddlebags). You can find the black saddlebags, a migratory species, throughout the United States and into Canada and Mexico.
So what happened to Ms. Black Saddlebags?
I gingerly picked her up. Figured she was dying. I kept her safe for an hour and then positioned her on a green mat for a quick photo.
It was quick, all right! She twitched her flight muscles in the mid-morning sun, and off she flew, her wings glistening, but wobbling. She picked up speed and her visit was over.
Black saddlebags can reportedly reach speeds of 17 miles per hour.
Ever seen this mottled brownish/blackish/grayish moth around lately? The alfalfa looper moth, Autographa californica?
We spotted this moth, as identified by Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, and Bohart Museum of Entomology associate Greg Kareofelas, a naturalist and photographer, nectaring on mustard blossoms last weekend in Vacaville, Calif.
It was flying during the day. "They are semi- to quite diurnal," says Shapiro, who has been seeing "a lot of them" lately, including at his research field site in Gates Canyon, Vacaville. "The caterpillars are semiloopers and feed a great variety of herbaceous plants."
A moth of the Noctuidae family, it's found from Southern British Columbia to Baja California and to Manitoba, South Dakota, Colorado and New Mexico, according to Wikipedia.
The caterpillars can be troublesome, according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program. The 'cats feed on the leaves of many plants, including agricultural crops such as dry beans, lettuce, artichoke, cotton, and tomatoes. They are often mistaken for their fellow leaf eaters, the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni.
"Alfalfa and cabbage loopers are quite similar in appearance," UC IPM says on its website. "The greenish larvae crawl by arching their bodies and are 1 to 1.5 inches long when mature. Looper eggs are similar to those of the bollworm in that they are spherical with vertical ridges from top to bottom. However, looper eggs are more flattened and have finer ridges. Alfalfa looper is usually found in May and early June while cabbage looper appears in late June through September."
The adult Autographa californica stopped by for about five minutes for a little food, and then it was off, flying awkwardly. It would have been easy prey for a hungry bird. Or a not-so-hungry bird.
When there's a Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, visitors come to listen, learn and explore.
Such was the case during the Parasitoid Palooza open house last Saturday, Nov. 18 when area residents, including parents and their children, and grandparents and their grandchildren, visited the museum. They came from as near as Davis and as far as Redwood City, Sonoma, Marin, and San Jose.
They came with questions; they left with answers and a deeper appreciation of insects.
There is much to see and do. The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on the UC Davis campus, is the home of nearly eight million insect specimens including about 320,000 in the Lepitoptera (butterflies and moths) collection, curated by entomologist Jeff Smith.
Those figures, however, are much like a moving target, "as we keep adding collections," commented Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and UC Davis professor of entomology.
"Yes, we are constantly adding material," Smith said, and "we may received very large donated collections in the next few years." Smith is almost finished spreading some 4000 specimens from an August Belize expedition."
The Bohart Museum is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity.
Special attractions include a “live” petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, praying mantids and tarantulas. Visitors are invited to hold some of the insects and photograph them. The museum's gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum hosts special open houses throughout the academic year. Its regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
Upcoming open houses (all free and open to the public):
- Bug-Art@The Bohart on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018 from 1 to 4 p.m.
- Biodiversity Museum Day on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, a daylong event featuring 12 UC Davis campus museums and collections, including the Bohart Museum. This will be the eighth annual. See Bug Squad blog regarding the 2017 Biodiversity Museum Day, coordinated by Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator.
- UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 21, 2018 a daylong event
In tomorrow's Bug Squad blog: a close-up look at the family craft activities and human-insect interaction in the petting zoo at the Nov. 18 open house.
Just as all lady bugs aren't ladies, all widow skimmer dragonflies aren't female.
A mature male Libellula luctuosa, aka “Widow Skimmer," (as identified by Bohart Museum of Entomology associate and dragonfly expert Greg Kareofelas), recently delighted us with a visit to our Vacaville pollinator garden. He perched on a bamboo stake and appeared to be considering his fast-food menu--leafcutter bees, sweat bees, hover flies, mosquitoes. Hmm...decisions, decisions!
Mr. Widow Skimmer was probably not expecting the unexpected--a strong gust of wind flapped his wings over his head! Talk about having bad hair day...
What drew us to him--besides the wind!--was his steel blue coloring and his broad wing bands. Look closely and you can see his three pairs of black legs. They catch prey with their legs and then use their "fangs" to raise it to their mouth.
"The species name means sorrowful or mournful, perhaps because the wings of both male and female seem to be draped in mourning crepe," observes BugGuide.Net. They're "found across most of the United States except the Rocky Mountain region. The range continues southward across the Mexican border. The widow skimmer has been reported from four Canadian provinces: Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia."
How did Kareofelas know it was a mature male, recently mated? Well, when they reproduce, they form a wheel or heart shape (the process of reproduction is known as "in tandem"). Kareofelas saw the marks on the male's abdomen where the female clasped the male.
"Mature male," he said.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on Saturday night, July 22, promises to be a fun and educational event. It's free and open to the public.
The open house, celebrating National Moth Week, will take place from 8 to 11 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, and also outside, where two blacklight traps will be set up to collect moths and other insects. The event is free and open to the public and is family friendly.
A $75,000 scanning electron microscope, on loan from Hitachi Corp. for research and outreach, will be available for visitors to see moth scales and other insect parts.
Bohart Museum senior scientist Steve Heydon and two Bohart associates "Moth Man" John DeBenedictis and naturalist-photographer Greg Kareofelas of Davis will set up the light traps and answer questions. Bohart associate Jeff Smith of Sacramento, who curates the butterfly and moth specimens, will field questions about moths and butterflies and show specimens from around the world.
The family craft activity will be to make a moth-shaped window ornament resembling stained glass, said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. Free refreshments--hot chocolate, herbal tea and cookies--will be served. Common Grounds of Davis is donating part of the refreshments.
On permanent display is the Trump moth, Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, a relatively new species that Bohart Museum scientists collected at Algodones Dunes, bordering Arizona and the Mexican state of Baja California. Evolutionary biologist and systematist Vazrick Nazari of Canada named it donaldtrumpi because the yellow scales on the tiny moth's head reminded him of the hairstyle of Donald Trump, then president-elect. The orange-yellow moth has a wingspan of less than one centimeter.
Nazari published the piece on the Trump moth Jan. 17, 2016 in the journal Zookeys and explained the name: “The reason for this choice of names is to bring wider public attention to the need to continue protecting fragile habitats in the U.S. that still contain many undescribed species." The Neopalpa donaldtrumpi belongs to the family, Gelechiidae of the Lepitoptera order.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, houses nearly eight million specimens; a year-around gift shop; and a live "petting zoo," including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, and orchid praing mantis and tarantulas.
For more information on the open house, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 752-0493.