So you're walking along Doran Regional Park Beach in Sonoma County on Tuesday, Oct. 16 and thinking about the pollinators in your back yard. (Don't we all?)
And then: what a delight to see. Apis mellifera (honey bees) and Eristalis tenax, syprhid flies (better known as a "drone flies") nectaring on the tiny blossoms of a sea rocket plant (genus Cakile).
This particular plant species? The European sea rocket, Cakile maritima, a succulent annual that's a member of the mustard family. It grows in clumps or mounds on sandy beaches and bluffs along the coastlines of North Africa, western Asia, and North America. It boasts a long, slender and stout taproot.
You've probably seen it. But you may not have noticed the pollinators.
"Their leaves are fleshy," is how Wikipedia describes the plant. "Flowers are typically pale mauve to white, with petals about 1 cm in length. Each fruit has two sections, one that remains attached to the adult, and the other which that falls off for dispersal by wind or water."
At Doran Beach, two species of sea rocket (C. maritima orEuropean sea rocket, and C. edentula or American sea rocket) bloom from spring through summer--and sometimes in early fall.
Bees at the beach? Floating fruit?
And flies (syprhids), too.
It starts out slow.
Beginning in the spring (and sometimes year-around in some locales) Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) lay their eggs on their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora).
They deposit their eggs on the tendrils, on the leaves, and sometimes on the fence, wall or door where the passionflower vine climbs.
When fall approaches and the Gulf Frits are still laying eggs, you won't recognize your vine. It is skeletonized. The caterpillars, incredible shredding machines, have devoured all the leaves, leaving nothing but scarred sticks. And the 'cats are now gobbling up the remaining fruit. Hungry, hungry caterpillars!
Your plant, now incognito, looks like it should be in the Federal Witness Protection Program--and you have to defend yourself for "being a bad gardener."
But that's why we plant the Passiflora: for the Gulf Frits.
"No plant wants to be eaten," wisely observes Bruce Hammock, a UC Davis distinguished professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. "They all have defenses. They do not like insects, fungi, cows or even vegetarians that eat them."
At the time, Professor Hammock was talking to a reporter about toxic plants, and how we have bred many poisons out of plants or learned to not eat the most toxic parts. "In some cases, we like the taste of the poisons: cinnamon, potato, parsley, and mustard," Hammock told him.
In the case of the passionflower vine, aka Scraped Skinny Stick, it probably wishes (if plants could wish) and wonders (if plants could wonder) "Why am I so attractive?" and "Where are all the birds, wasps and other predators of caterpillars when I need them?"
They don't announce their arrival or departure.
If you're an insect photographer, or a wanna-be-insect photographer, expect the unexpected and don't go anywhere without your camera.
That applies to such simple things as walking out your back door and stepping into your pollinator garden.
It was Friday morning, Oct. 12, and we watched a gust of wind stir the African blue basil, tousle the milkweed, and whip the 12-foot-high Mexican sunflower. "Ah, wind," I thought. "A good day for dragonflies."
As if on cue, a variegated meadowhawk dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum, touched down on a bamboo stake, and looked right at me. I edged closer and "she" (gender identified by naturalist Greg Kareofelas, an associate with the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis) quickly left her perch.
I figured she would return and she did. Camera already raised, I slowly pointed my Nikon D800 with the 200mm macro lens and pressed the shutter. She left. She returned. She left. She returned.
A 'portrait studio' with the subject giving me "yes-no-maybe" answers.
In one view below, you can see the “bi-colored” Pterostigma on the wing tip and the two black spots on the top of the tip of the abdomen," noted Kareofelas. "This is unique to this species."
In another view, you can see the blurred image of a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) forming a backdrop.
Insect photography takes patience, persistence and perseverance because these six-legged critters don't announce their arrival or their departure, not like at an airport or a train station.
But they are there. "At any time, it is estimated that there are some 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects alive," according to the Smithsonian Institute. That's about 200 million insects for every human on the planet.
Your camera will find at least one of them at any given time of day.
But they're not welcome.
Agriculturists who commercially grow cabbage and other cucurbits aren't fond of the cabbage white butterlfy, Pieris rapae, because its larvae are pests that ravish their crops.
No welcome mat for them.
This butterfly, however, is welcome--sort of--starting Jan. 1 of every year in the three-county area of Sacramento, Solano and Yolo. It's the target of the "Beer for a Butterfly Contest," sponsored by Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. The first one collected in the three-county area collects a pitcher of beer or its equivalent.
Professor Shapiro, who maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu, launched the contest in 1972 as part of his long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate change. Pieris rapae is emerging earlier and earlier as the regional climate has warmed, he says. "The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here."
He usually wins the suds-for-a-bug contest; he has been defeated only four times, and all by UC Davis graduate students. This year (2018) he collected the cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, at 11:23 a.m. Friday, Jan. 19 in one of his frequented sites—a mustard patch by railroad tracks in West Sacramento, Yolo County. (See Bug Squad blog)
Last weekend we spotted a cabbage white nectaring on lantana, a common occurrence. What was not so common was that this one wasn't skittish. It lingered like a ballerina anticipating a curtain call, and allowed us to photograph it in flight.
Images by three UC Davis-affiliated photographers will be among those displayed at the international Insect Salon photography competition at the Entomological Society of America's meeting, Nov. 11-14 in Vancouver, B.C.
The insect photographers: Alexander Nguyen, who submitted an image of a syprhid fly--a wasp mimic, Ceriana tridens, ovipositing in the fissures of a tree; Allan Jones, a photo of a female leafcutter bee, Megachile fidelis, carrying a leaf petal back to her nest; and Kathy Keatley Garvey, an image of a pollen-drenched honey bee, Apis mellifera, nectaring on mustard.
The images were among 122 accepted for the Insect Salon from a total of 333 images submitted by 84 photographers from 22 countries (a 37 percent acceptance rate).
Nguyen, who received his bachelor of science degree in entomology from UC Davis, is a biologist for the Solano County Department of Agriculture. He captured the image of the wasp mimic at Spanish Flat on the west bank of Lake Berryessa, Napa County. "After larvae hatch they will feed on sap from the tree," said Nguyen, who maintains a photography website at https://alexandernguyen.smugmug.com. Senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the California Department of Food and Agriculture identified the syrphid.
Jones, who holds bachelor's degrees in English and German and a master's degree in English from UC Davis, is a California Department of Agriculture (CDFA) retiree who now resides in Davis. He captured his winning image of the leafcutter bee in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee garden, operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. It shows the bee carrying a Clarkia petal back to her nest.
Kathy Keatley Garvey
Garvey, who holds degrees in communications and journalism from Washington State University, Pullman, is a communications specialist with the Department of Entomology and Nematology. She captured her winning image of the pollen-packing honey bee in a Vacaville (Calif.) mustard patch. In her leisure time, Garvey writes a Bug Squad blog, about insects and entomologists, on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website, a blog she has written every night, Monday through Friday, for the past 10 years.
Joseph Virbickis of the Peoria (Ill.) Camera Club, coordinator of Insect Salon, announced the medal winners, which included "best of show" and "best of Entomological Society of America photographers" and "best of Peoira Camera Club photographers":
- Medal, Best of Show: Soon Seng Leong of Malaysia, for his image, "Share Together 084."
- Medal, Best of ESA Members: Thomas Myers of Lexington, Ky., for his "Saddleback Caterpillars"
- Medal, Best by Peoria Camera Club: Carl Close of Hopewell, Ill., "Hornworm Caterpillar"
- Medal, Best Storytelling: Say Boon Foo of Malyasia, for "Ant 3"
- Medal, Most Unusual, Jenni Horsnell of Australia for "Wolf Spider with Young"
The winning entries will be displayed both on the Peoria Camera Club website and on screens at the annual meeting of ESA, a global organization of some 7000 members that serves the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and individuals in related disciplines. This year's theme is "Sharing Insect Science Globally."
All photographers are invited to submit up to four entries in the annual Insect Salon competition, Virbickis said. This is a Photographic Society of America-sanctioned nature competition.