Fly away home.
Your house is on fire
And your children are gone.
How many times have you heard that nursery rhyme?
Better yet, how many times have you seen a lady beetle (because they're beetles, not bugs) take off?
Look closely for lady beetles in aphid-infested milkweed plants and you might see this phenomenon. The lady beetle opens its elytra (a modified hardened protective wing case) and out pop the wings.
This lady beetle (below) was munching and crunching aphids on a tropical milkweed this afternoon in Vacaville, Calif., and then opted to take flight. Just another beneficial insect eating soft-bodied pests and then heading off to another "restaurant" that features its prey.
Goes to prove that lady beetles are garden heroes. And when they take flight, they look like super heroes: the superman/superwoman of the garden.
You can learn more about lady beetles from the Natural Enemies Gallery, part of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) website. "Although they are extremely important natural enemies of aphids, their propensity to disperse makes it difficult for them to be used in inoculative or inundative biological control programs," UC IPM points out.
Tell that to the children chanting the nursery rhyme and they'll probably grow up wanting to learn more about these amazing insects and it's not about their house being on fire: "Their propensity to disperse makes it difficult for them to be used in inoculative or inundative biological control programs."
"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.
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...
Have you checked your rose bushes lately? Along with the lush new growth, you'll probably notice a new crop of aphids. And if you look closely, probably lady beetles (aka ladybugs).
The UC Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) defines aphids as "small, soft-bodied insects with long slender mouthparts that they use to pierce stems, leaves, and other tender plant parts and suck out fluids." Basically, they're pear-shaped insects with long legs and long antennae and may be green, yellow, brown, red or black "depending on the species and the plants they feed on," according to UC IPM. "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."
"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."
UC IPM also says that most aphids don't move rapidly when disturbed. That's the truth! Sometimes they're just a 16th of an inch away from a lady beetle that's gobbling up their siblings.
The lady beetles in our garden today were primarily the multicolored Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis), also known as Harlequin lady beetles. They're native to China, Russia, Korea and Japan. In colder parts of the world, they're considered a nuisance when they overwinter in large congregations in walls, windows or attic. They leave unpleasant odors and stains.
Friend or foe? They're more of a friend, at least here in sunny California.