So, here I am, an Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) perched on a rose bush in Vacaville, Calif., as dawn breaks. I'm eating aphids and minding my own beetle business, which consists of gobbling aphids and more aphids. And more aphids. Did I say more aphids? More aphids.
Wait, what's that? Something is heading straight toward me, its wings are flapping like crazy. Hey, I was here first. Go away!
Whoa, what are you doing? You've landed and you're licking me. What do you think I am, a honey stick?
That's what happened during a backyard encounter with an Asian lady beetle and a large syrphid fly. The fly, identified by senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the Plant Pest Diagnostic Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture, is a female Scaeva pyrastri.
Hauser and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, agreed that the syrphid fly is "going after honeydew on the beetle's head." Honeydew is a sugary, sticky liquid that aphids secrete when they're feeding on plant juices.
"The beetle was full of honeydew from feasting on aphids," Hauser noted, "and that is what the fly was after."
"I do! I do! I do!"
Some of us engage in wedding photography.
Not with humans. With insects.
All you need is a bride, a groom and a…hmm…bedroom. That could be a leafy green bedroom in the rose garden where the lady beetles, aka ladybugs, are. Most of the time they're in the kitchen, eating aphids. Sometimes they're not.
Sometimes the activities underway aren't just...well...."integrated pest management activities." Think two ladybugs on a leaf. Two. One is not a "lady." There's this gender thing.
Life is simple in insect wedding photography.
- There's no preacher saying “Let us prey.” The bride and groom are both predators, and aphids are their prey.
- There are no vows. There's no “til death do us part.” Unless the bride and groom are praying mantids and the groom is about to part with his head.
- Love amid the roses? Well, there is “I larva you.” But insects are interested in only two things: reproduction and an all-you-can-eat buffet.
- There's no wedding party. But there is a congregation of favorite aunts (ants) and soldiers (soldier beetles), and assorted uninvited guests, including lacewings, honey bees, syrphid flies and spiders. Some of the guests are eating one another. Oops! Is it too late to hire a wedding planner?
- There's no need to coordinate what the mother of the bride and groom are wearing. They're wearing spots. And a few minutes ago, they flew off in search of more aphids. Sorry, to leave you, dears, but we're hungry.
- There's no wedding cake. Aphids are the fare when you're a ladybug. Mites and scales are fairly delicious, too.
Here's the kicker: the bride and groom will never, ever--never, ever!--complain about how fat, old, tired or wrinkled they look in the photos. They're as cute as well…bugs…and bugs are pretty darn cute.
If you want to pursue insect photography or insect wedding photography, you'll need a macro lens, patience, and the ability to blend into the scene.
Just don't bug the love bugs.
Have you ever watched a lady beetle gobble up those pesky aphids? Aphids may look fragile, harmless and sluggish, but wow, can those tiny insects ever suck those juices right out of your budding roses and other plants!
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) defines aphids on its website: "Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects with long slender mouthparts that they use to pierce stems, leaves, and other tender plant parts and suck out fluids. Almost every plant has one or more aphid species that occasionally feed on it. Many aphid species are difficult to distinguish from one another; however, management of most aphid species is similar."
"Aphids have soft pear-shaped bodies with long legs and antennae and may be green, yellow, brown, red, or black depending on the species and the plants they feed on," UC IPM says. "A few species appear waxy or woolly due to the secretion of a waxy white or gray substance over their body surface. Most species have a pair of tubelike structures called cornicles projecting backward out of the hind end of their body. The presence of cornicles distinguishes aphids from all other insects."
"Generally adult aphids are wingless, but most species also occur in winged forms, especially when populations are high or during spring and fall. The ability to produce winged individuals provides the pest with a way to disperse to other plants when the quality of the food source deteriorates."
Right. If you look closely, you may see the winged ones. Or see them being devoured.
For lady beetles, this is not about eating just one. it's an all-you-can-eat buffet of hapless prey. It's like the insect version of a robotic vacuum cleaner or a paper shredder of industrial strength. Or the insect version of Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, the Major League eater who reportedly trains by fasting and by stretching his stomach with milk, water and protein supplements.
Lately we've been watching the multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis, go about its business of eating aphids. It's a predator with a purpose: 50 to 75 aphids a day.
It doesn't need to train.
There's gold on them thar roses.
No, not the kind of gold found during the California Gold Rush (1848–1855) that brought some 300,000 folks to the Golden State.
These are gold eggs from the multicolored Asian beetle, Harmonia axyridis, that we found on our Sparkle-and-Shine roses last week. The aphids are sparkling and the lady beetles are shining.
A native of eastern Asia, the multicolored Asian beetle was introduced in California by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1916, and in 1964 -1965 for the biological control of pecan aphids. Later, from 1978 through 1982, released beetles took hold in Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
The multicolored Asian beetles are tiny, about 7 mm long and 5.5 mm wide. Spots? They range from as many as 19 spots to no spots at all. Color? From red to orange to yellow and (rarely) black. A key identifying characteristic is the black M-shaped mark behind its head.
The beetles, commonly known as ladybugs (but they're beetles, not bugs), are from the family Coccinellidae and they eat lots and lots of aphids and other soft-bodied insects, including scale insects and mites.
Aphids are not your friends. With their piercing mouthparts, they suck the juices right out of your plants, including your favorite roses. Lady beetles are your friends. They have voracious appetites and can gobble up 50 to 75 aphids a day.
Lush new growth often means a gathering of aphids, which means a gathering of lady beetles. Look closely and you might seen a cluster or row of about 20 oval eggs on the leaves.
That's the gold.
And so the cycle continues.
(Note: If you're looking for more roses, the California Center for Urban Horticulture, UC Davis, has just announced its 10th annual Rose Days will be Saturday and Sunday, May 6-7, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Foundation Plant Services parking lot, 455 Hopkins Road, UC Davis campus.)
"Well, yes, I would like some aphids for dinner," said every lady beetle (aka ladybug) everywhere.
With the lush green growth of spring, come aphids (the prey) and lady beetles (the predators).
And now, if you look closely, you'll see clusters or rows of lady beetle eggs on your roses. Luck be a lady...
"The name 'ladybug' was coined by European farmers who prayed to the Virgin Mary when pests began eating their crops," National Geographic says on its website. "After ladybugs came and wiped out the invading insects, the farmers named them 'beetle of Our Lady.' This eventually was shortened to 'lady beetle' and 'ladybug.'"
Globally, we have some 5000 species of lady beetles. Entomologists call them ladybird beetles. Yes, they're beetles, not bugs. The term, bugs, applies to insects in the order Hemiptera, while lady beetles belong to the order Coleoptera.
Lady beetles range in color from red to orange to yellow, with or without spots. See the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program website for photos and descriptions.
The red and orange are warning colors in nature. Hey, don't eat me. I don't taste good! You'll be sorry! In fact, their hemolymph is both toxic and foul-smelling. Predators steer clear of them.
Although lady beetles don't taste good to predators, aphids are a different matter. Aphids are apparently quite tasty. One hungry lady beetle can gobble up about 50 to 75 aphids a day or 5000 over a lifetime, scientists say. But who's counting? There's no "Weight Watchers" or "Waist Watchers" program in place.
Lady beetles also devour other soft-bodied insects, such as scale insects, white flies and mites.
Today (March 20) marked the first day of spring and the international Day of Happiness, one and the same. Rain pelted our roses, and doused the lady-beetles-that-were-eating-the-aphids, and the aphids-that-were-sucking-the-plant-juices and the roses that were just trying their darndest to grow.
Meanwhile, the goldlike eggs just glistened...with promises of a new generation of lady beetles...