The California poppy draws lots of visitors: honey bees, bumble bees and assorted other insects.
But a particular visitor we spotted March 15 on a poppy outside the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive, Davis, looked puzzling.
A beetle. But what kind of beetle?
"This is a ladybug—Paranaemia vittigera," said senior museum scientist Steve Heydon of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis campus. "It's a native of the western United States."
"Family Coccinellidae," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Ah, yes, our little lady beetle, aka ladybug, ladybird beetle. But this one was striped, not spotted. Fact is, ladybugs are not always red with black dots. They come in coats of many colors: yellow, orange, brown and the like--some with dots, no dots, stripes, no stripes, and blotches or no blotches.
"Although rather consistent in body form and habits, there are a great many species, with more than 125 known in California," writes retired UC Berkeley entomology professor Jerry Powell in his book, "California Insects," co-authored by Charles Hogue (now deceased), former senior curator of entomology at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.
Said Kimsey: "We have pretty old specimens from all over northern California including the Central Valley. They are native here. It's interesting, though, how little biological information I could find about them."
One thing's for sure: we're accustomed to seeing spots on our ladybugs, not stripes./span>/span>/span>
Ladybugs--actually, they're "lady beetles"--are garden heroes. And that's the theme of the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house on Sunday, March 2 from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane, University of California, Davis.
The event is free and open to the public. And, it's family oriented with lots of activities planned, said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator at the Bohart Museum.
“This time of year aphids are invading our gardens,” Yang said. “Garden heroes, like lady beetles, help us out.” Other garden heroes include lacewings, bigeyed bugs, assassin bugs, damsel bugs, and soldier beetles. (See a list of natural enemies on the UC Integrated Pest Management website.)
Another key attraction at the Bohart Museum open house will be a return appearance of the Budding Biologist, creator of ecology video games. Budding Biologist is an educational publishing company owned by Kristine Callis-Duehl, who is with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Irvine. This game is loosely based on ecological research being conducted by Louie Yang, assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Walter Hsiao, the video game developer, will be on hand to answer questions about game design.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses nearly eight million 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 in 1946.
The year-around gift shop (gifts are also available online) offers t-shirts, jewelry, insect nets, posters and books, including the newly published children's book, “The Story of the Dogface Butterfly,” written by UC Davis doctoral candidate Fran Keller and illustrated (watercolor and ink) by Laine Bauer, a 2012 graduate of UC Davis. The 35-page book, geared toward kindergarteners through sixth graders, also includes photos by naturalist Greg Kareofelas of Davis, a volunteer at the Bohart.
The museum is located near the intersection of LaRue Road and Crocker Lane. The museum's regular public hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Group tours can be arranged with Tabatha Yang at email@example.com or (530) 752-0493. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and UC Davis holidays./span>
What's for lunch?
If you're a lady beetle (aka ladybug), a good bet is you'll have one of those yummy, plant-sucking aphids. In fact, you'll eat your fill. Please do.
Today we walked behind the Life Sciences Building on the UC Davis campus and encountered scores of our polka-dotted, six-legged, dome-shaped buddies hunting for prey.
It was easy pickings.
This was a fast predator in a slow food movement.
Aphids were everywhere on the brittlebush (Encelia farinosa).
Call lady beetles what you will. Ladybirds. Lady beetles. Ladybugs. Coccinelles. Beneficial insects. All of the above.
Most people in America, however, know this insect as a "ladybug." It's actually not a true bug but a beetle. It's a member of the Coccinellidae family. Coccinelid is Latin for "scarlet," but not all lady beetles are scarlet with black spots. Some are yellow, orange and brown, and some with spots and some without.
You'll find coccinellids worldwide as there are more than 5,000 species, and of that number, more than 450 are native to North America, according to Wikipedia.
And they all "do lunch" with aphids, scales and other soft-bodied insects.
The lady beetle, aka ladybug, was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
We don't know how she managed to get tangled in the cellar spider's web or why the cellar spider opted to have her for dinner instead waiting for a tasty honey bee, a nutritious leafcutter bee or a plump bumble bee.
Nevertheless, we came upon this predator-prey attack in our backyard. It was too late to save the ladybug.
Ordinarily, the ladybug's bright red coloration serves as a "warning" to predators. Plus, ladybugs are known to ooze a foul-tasting chemical that tastes so bad that predators leave them alone.
"The bright colors of many coccinellids discourage some potential predators from making a meal of them," according to Wikipedia. "This phenomenon is called aposematism and works because predators learn by experience to associate certain prey phenotypes with a bad taste. A further defense known as 'Reflex bleeding' exists in which an alkaloid toxin is exuded through the joints of the exoskeleton, triggered by mechanical stimulation (such as by predator attack) in both larval and adult beetles, deterring feeding."
So why the cellar spider's unusual menu choice? "The spider's 'taste buds' probably weren't very good," quipped a UC Davis scientist.
The aphids know how to plan a family reunion.
Grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, mom and pop, brothers and sisters, cousins and more cousins--they're all gathering to feed on the lush growth of the spring roses, the juicy shoots, the tender buds. And they multiply. You think rabbits multiply fast? Try aphids.
A telltale sign of their presence: Crumpled white carcasses and leaves coated with sticky honeydew.
A strong blast of water and the aphids are gone.
Well, at least some of them.
We watched a sole ladybug, aka ladybeetle, feasting on an aphid buffet on Easter Sunday. So many aphids, and so much time. All the aphids on her menu were green, but they come in yellow, brown and black, too.
The aphids crawled along the rose stems, bumping their cornicles or tubelike structures into one another, unaware of the looming red predator in their midst.
Until it was too late.