So there we were, on Mother's Day, looking at the yet-to-bloom English lavender in our yard.
And there it was, something golden staring back at us.
It was showing a face that "only a mother could love"--or an entomologist or an insect enthusiast.
Scathophaga stercoraria, the golden dung fly. A red-eyed blond fly.
It's a beneficial insect. The larvae are often found in the feces of large animals, including horses, cattle, sheep, deer and wild boar, where the insect breeds. (Note: We have no horses, cattle, sheep, deer or wild boar near us!) The larvae eat the dung, making this insect important to natural decomposition.
The adult is a predator, it hunts for flies and other small insects. The adults also sip nectar, just like honey bees and other pollinators. Nearby was another golden dung fly, dead. Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, looked at its swollen belly and said it died "from entomophagous fungus--perhaps the same one that 'glues' houseflies to window panes."
For more information on these fascinating insects, check out the BugGuide.Net entry on the golden dung fly. The insect was first described in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus as Musca stercoraria, according to BugGuide.Net.
You're on a winning streak when you spot a gray hairstreak.
No, not the streak in Grandpa's hair--the streak on Grandma's flowers.
It's the gray hairstreak butterfly, Strymon mellinus, also known as the common hairstreak.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, says the gray hairstreak does well in towns and cities in the Central Valley. "It is multiple-brooded and has a very long flight season, at sea level from February to November, but rarely seen before June in the mountains where it does not appear able to overwinter," he says on his website. "Early spring specimens are small and very dark with reduced red markings; "albinos," with the red replaced by pale yellow, occur mostly in the spring brood. There is much minor variation. Adults visit an immense variety of flowers, both wild and cultivated. They are particularly addicted to Heliotrope and white-flowered Apiaceae."
Lately we've been seeing the gray hairstreak on our Spanish lavender, although it also frequents mallows, white clover, alfalfa and other plants.
If you're into hairstreaks, be sure to check out the Green Hairstreak Butterfly Festival, a Nature-in-the-City event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, April 15 at the Hoover Middle School, 2290 14th Ave., San Francisco.
We're assured that the Green Hairstreak Butterfly Festival has landed. Or maybe fluttered down...
"Spring is back and so is our local butterfly, the green hairstreak," festival organizers said. "In 2006, the community of District 7 came together to save this butterfly from disappearing. Habitat restoration and community stewardship were our main tools. Now we have a robust corridor, or butterfly highway, where we can find this nickel-sized, brightly green butterfly flying from Hawk Hill to Rocky Outcrop to the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps!"
It's a family event. Plans call for an outdoor classroom "to teach you about the butterfly, how to find it, and how to help maintain its unique habitat for all local pollinators. In addition, there will be contests, prizes, artwork, hands-on activities, access to local nature groups and plants, baked goods and crafts to take home." (Read about the Green Hairstreak corridor.)
The gray hairstreak, Strymon mellinus, and the green hairstreak, Callophrys viridis, belong to the same family Lycaenidae, which includes more than 6000 species worldwide or about 30 percent of the known butterfly species, according to Wikipedia.
Strymon, the genus name, is derived from the Strymon River in Bulgaria and Greece; the species name, melinus, means gray in Greek. The green hairstreak? Its genus name, Callophyrs, is Greek for "beautiful eyebrows" and its species name, viridis, is Latin for green.
Check out Shapiro's web page on Lycaenidae, to see other gossamer-wing family members in the Central Valley...and maybe boost your winning streak./span>
They're not bumble bees. They're not scary. But well, they ARE big. About an inch long.
The Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) is the largest bee in California. The female is solid black with metallic wings. In a great example of sexual dimorphism, the male looks nothing like the female. It's a green-eyed blond, fondly known as "the teddy bear" bee because it's fuzzy-wuzzy and cannot sting. (See Bug Squad photo of the teddy bear bee.) "Boy bees can't sting because they have no stingers," native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, is fond of saying at UC Davis open houses and area workshops.
But it was the female we were checking out last weekend. She buzzed from the blanket flower (Gaillardia) to the lavender patch and clung to a blossom.
A honey bee seeking the same nectar landed next to her. Talk about size comparison! Neither seemed to mind the presence of the other. Plenty of nectar. Plenty of time. Plenty of work to do.
When the honey bee finally left--"I'm outta here!"--the Valley carpenter bee climbed to the top of the stem as if claiming it. "This is mine! This is all mine."
Possession is nine-tenths of the law.
It also applies to bees foraging on lavender.
A black-faced bumble bee (Bombus californicus) this morning stretched between two lavender stems and lingered there--probably to warm its wings for flight. Along comes a honey bee (Apis mellifera) interested only in foraging for nectar.
The bumble bee holds its ground--or the stems.
The honey bee glances over at the yoga pose, sips some nectar, and buzzes off--this time probably hoping for an unoccupied blossom.
So, what does "possession is nine-tenths of the law" really mean?
Says Wikipedia: "Although the principle is an oversimplification, it can be restated as: 'In a property dispute (whether real or personal), in the absence of clear and compelling testimony or documentation to the contrary, the person in actual, custodial possession of the property is presumed to be the rightful owner."
When we left the lavender patch, the bumble bee was still in possession. But they did share. Momentarily.
He's racing through the lavender patch at breakneck speed, as if he's going to be charged with nectar robbing.
The male Bombus vandykei, an engaging blond bumble bee, twists, turns and zig-zags through the long-stemmed lavender. There is no one in pursuit.
Well, except for me and my trusty camera. I'm stationary. The camera is not. Neither is Mr. Van Dyke.
In his morning mission for flight fuel, the golden blob of a bumble bee visits a dozen lavender blossoms, sipping breakfast as if it's a smoothie, and then he's off and running. Buzzing, really. I don't know where he's going but I hope he knows where he went. The welcome mat is out.
Just another day in the lavender patch. But a beautiful day to sight the male Van Dyke bumble bee.