The Frit and the fly...or the butterfly and the fly...
That would be the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) and the syrphid fly (family Syrphidae), aka flower fly or hover fly.
They meet on a beautiful autumn day on an equally beautiful Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). The season is winding down.
"I was here first!" the Gulf Frit proclaims.
"I was here second!" the fly says.
The yellow-and-black striped fly, masquerading as a bee, is determined to sip some nectar. It edges closer and closer.
The newly eclosed butterfly simply wants to dry its wings before taking off.
The fly is more persistent. And more hungry.
The fly brushes the butterfly. The butterfly takes flight.
Score: Fly: 1; Butterfly, 0.
It's Halloween and scores of trick-or-treaters are donning monarch butterfly costumes.
But they can't do justice to the living monarchs, those iconic, majestic butterflies that are always dressed in Halloween colors: black and orange.
It's always a treat to see them but they have to avoid the "tricks"--predators and parasitoids.
Among the last monarchs we reared in September: a brightly colored female, healthy and strong and rarin' to go.
Where is she now, on Halloween? Is she overwintering in Santa Cruz or Pacific Grove? Or, did a predator, perhaps a California scrub jay or a praying mantis, nail her?
We don't known "witch" way she went, but as she fluttered away, we wished her "Safe travels!"
It's been a troubling year for monarchs, Danaus plexippus, according to butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who maintains a research website, Art's Butterfly World. "I have not seen a wild egg or caterpillar of the monarch this entire calendar year at low elevations," he said Sept. 6, 2018 during an interview on the "Insight with Beth Ruyak" program, Capital Public Radio, Sacramento. "Not one." (Listen to the interview.)
Where to see the overwintering monarchs in California?
They've been found at more than 400 sites along the California coast, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. "The mild winters of the California coast are a perfect haven from the harsh cold weather found in our country's interior," Xerces says on its website. "Monarchs take advantage of this climate and often use the same overwintering sites year after year. Congregations of overwintering monarchs have been found at more than 400 sites along the California coast, from Mendocino County in the north to San Diego in the south. For many people, the arrival of autumn along the California coast is marked by the flutter of orange and black as monarchs arrive at these groves and settle in for the winter."
"The last few years have witnessed low numbers of butterflies throughout the region compared to the late 1990s, but there are still many places to view overwintering monarchs and get involved!"
They can't drain your bank account. They can't open up new credit cards. They can't get medical treatment on your health insurance.
But they are identity thieves, nonetheless.
Meet the drone fly (Eristalis tenax), often mistaken for a honey bee.
Indeed, it's about the size of a honey bee. In its adult form, it's a pollinator, just like the honey bee.
Unlike a honey bee, however, the drone fly "hovers" over a flower before landing. And unlike a honey bee, the drone fly has one set of wings, large eyes, stubby antennae, and a distinguishing "H" on its abdomen. Robbin Thorp, UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, jokingly calls the drone fly "The H Bee."
Drone fly larvae are known as rattailed maggots. They feed off bacteria in drainage ditches, manure or cess pools, sewers and the like.
The fly belongs to the family Syrphidae (which includes insects commonly known as syrphids, flower flies, and hover flies) in the order, Diptera. The honey bee is Apis mellifera, family Apidae, order Hymenoptera.
One's a fly. One's a bee.
Lately we've been seeing scores of drone flies nectaring on our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
Identify thievery does have its advantages. Wary people and predators often shy away from drone flies, thinking they are honey bees and might sting them.
Drone flies can't sting. They can't drain your bank, either.
Ah, pillow fights, popcorn, and marathon movies on TV, you ask?
No. "Boys' Night Out" is when the longhorned male bees in our pollinator garden in Vacaville engage in sleepovers on our Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and other blossoms.
At night, the girls sleep inside their nests, and the boys cluster on flowers.
Lately, we've been admiring a trio of boys--Melissodes (possibly M. robustior, as identified by Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis)--bunking down on a Tithonia. Every day, around sunset, they head over to the same flower, arrange themselves in comfortable sleeping positions (hey, quit kicking me), and it's nighty-night! When the sun rises, they vacate the bedroom. Sometimes it's earlier than planned, no thanks to buzzing bumble bees, carpenter bees and honey bees foraging around them and disturbing their beauty sleep. The nerve!
Other species of male longhorned bees--including Melissodes agilis and Svastra obliqua--sleep on flowers at night as well.
"Most frequently, the boy bee overnight clusters are single-species clusters," says Thorp, co-author of California Bees and Blooms, a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, with UC-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, Rollin E. Coville, and Barbara Ertter.
Thorp, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley and taught entomology at UC Davis from 1964 to 1994, continues to "bee involved" in research, writings, bee identification and public outreach. He teaches annually at The Bee Course (American Museum of Natural History), at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The nine-day intensive course is offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
In a previous Bug Squad blog, Thorp responded to a reader's inquiry about "stings" from the clustering bees. "Boy bees cannot sting," he pointed out. "They lack a stinger which is a modified ovipositor in their wasp ancestors. Occasionally a girl bee may spend the night out if she is caught by sudden drop in temperature. Usually she will not be part of a group sleep over. So don't attempt to handle unless you are confident you can tell boy bees from girl bees or they are too sleepy to defend themselves."
The reader also asked: "Typically how close to the girls' nest(s) do the boys' slumber? I want to try and make sure I don't touch it when planting at end of summer."
"Boy sleeping aggregations are based on a suitable perch and not related to where females are nesting, but probably no more than 100 yards from the nearest female nest," Thorp answered. "Females nest in the ground and have rather distinctive round holes about the diameter of a pencil or slightly smaller, sometimes with small piles of dirt around them looking like mini-volcanos. The holes may be widely separated or clustered together depending on the species, but each female digs her own burrow."
The reader also wondered: "When watching the boys tonight, about ten of them started waking up and kicking each other. They finally settled down and started to nestle back in for the 'night'--it was only 6 p.m.--but I wasn't sure if my presence was getting them riled or they tend to act like kids sharing a bed?"
Said Thorp: "The boys usually settle in as the light dims in the evening. Cool, and drizzly conditions may modify bed time. Each establishes his own spot, so there may be some jostling for position initially."
Longhorned bees are among the more than 1600 species of undomesticated bees that reside in California. In their book, California Bees and Blooms, the authors focus on 22 of the most common genera and the flowers they frequent. Meanwhile, check out Frankie's UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab website to read more about native bees and the exciting research underway.
The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout.
Down came the rain and washed the spider out.
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain
and the itsy bitsy spider climbed up the spout again.
It was an itsy bitsy spider.
But it wasn't climbing up a water spout.
It was lurking, waiting for prey, on our Mexican sunflower.
This particular crab spider was quite visible--white on orange. Sometimes they're so camouflaged that you have to look twice to see them. We remember the perfectly camouflaged crab spider on a gold coin flower (Asteriscus maritimus). (See below).
Crab spiders belong to the family Thomisidae, which includes about 175 genera and more than 2100 species. Wikipedia tells us that "The common name crab spider is often applied to species in this family, but is also applied loosely to many other species of spiders. Among the Thomisidae, 'crab spider' refers most often to the familiar species of 'flower crab spiders,' though not all members of the family are limited to ambush hunting in flowers."