Staff at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's Center for Equine Health encountered "a strange little bug" that they'd never seen before outside their office Friday on Old Davis Road.
Barbara Meierhenry, senior editor at the Center for Equine Health, described it as "a strange little bug...It was about an inch long, with two rounded body sections covered with 'blond' fuzz, and six legs. He was actually very cute. We have never seen a bug like this before."
She emailed us two cell-phone images taken by Equine Control Officer Laurie Christison.
Enter UC Davis bug experts. Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, quickly identified it as a "female velvet ant (family Mutillidae)."
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, added: "The photo is of a female velvet ant, genus Dasymutilla, family Mutillidae. The females are wingless and parasitize ground-nesting bees. The males are winged. These ants are not commonly seen. They're usually associated with sandy soil, and are mostly active on cloudy days or at night. Males squeak when handled, females have powerful stings, so it's not a good idea to try to handle them."
Meierhenry speculates the velvet ant "may have come here on a hay truck as we had a delivery of hay on Friday. In the years we have both worked here, we have never seen such a creature."
As a side note, renowned insect photographer and ant specialist Alex Wild, based in Illinois, posted a Mutillidae family member on his popular Monday night insect quiz last February. He titled it "What's That Fuzz?" The responders got the genus right: Dasymutilla, but differed somewhat on the species.
For another amazing photo of Dasymutilla, check out Alex Wild's Dasymutilla gloriosa, aka Thistledown Velvet Ant. Talk about a good hair day!
By the way, Wild, who received his doctorate in entomology at UC Davis in 2005, studying with major professor Phil Ward, will return to UC Davis this week to speak on insect photography. His talk is Wednesday, Oct. 26 from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall. Professor James R. Carey plans to webcast the seminar and post it on UCTV.
It's a good week for bugs!
There are those who point and shoot, those who shoot and point, and those who see the world through a viewfinder.
And then there's Illinois-based Alex Wild, who is in a class by himself. He's an evolutionary biologist turned full-time science photographer whose visual explorations of insect natural history appear in numerous magazines and textbooks, on websites, and in museum exhibits.
Wild also runs photography workshops, teaches entomology and beekeeping at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and blogs for Scientific American.
He's an amazing photographer, Alex Wild is. His work has been showcased in the New York Times, National Geographic and Scientific American, among others.
Wild, who received his doctorate in entomology in 2005 from the University of California, Davis, with major professor and ant specialist Phil Ward, will be on the UC Davis campus on Wednesday, Oct. 26 to speak on "How to Take Better Insect Photographs" from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall.
This is his first visit to the campus since 2005 and he says "I can't wait."
Neither can all the folks eager for his tips on insect photography and an opportunity to view some of his spectacular photos.
"I am aiming this talk specifically at graduate students," Wild writes on his blog, Myrmecos (derived from the ancient Greek word for ant). "Because scientists use images in many applications--from lab websites to posters and presentations--and because cameras are so available and inexpensive, I think basic photography should be as much a part of academic training as learning to assemble a poster or a conference talk. Thus, 50 minutes on simple tips for taking better photos.”
"I do hope those of you within easy travel distance can attend," he adds.
When you access his Myrmecos blog and his Alex Wild Photography portfolio, you'll be transported into the fascinating world of insects. It's not just a journey; it's a trip. A delightful, exciting, inspiring, educational and informative trip.
One of Alex Wild's favorite photographs (below) shows Lasioglossum sweat bees gathering pollen from sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula). He captures a moment in time, and time in the moment.
Will the real honey bee stand up?
Not all bees are honey bees and not all floral visitors that look like bees are bees. Sometimes they're flies.
A recent trip to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis yielded a variety of floral visitors.
They all took a'liking to the 8-foot-tall Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), as orange as a Halloween pumpkin.
The floral visitors?
One was a drone fly (Ristalis tenax).
One was a sunflower bee (Svastra obliqua expurgata).
And one was a honey bee (Apis mellifera).
Scores of editors have mistaken drone flies and sunflower bees for honey bees and published photos that make entomologists cringe.
Entomologist/insect photographer Alex Wild of the University of Illinois (he received his doctorate in entomology at UC Davis with major professor Phil Ward), wrote an eye-opening piece on his Scientific American blog about mistaken insect identities. You'll want to read this--and then take a look at his amazing Myrmecos site.
And if you want to learn about insect photography from a master, be sure to attend his seminar from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 26 in 122 Briggs Hall, UC Davis. His topic: "How to Take Better Insect Photographs."
And maybe he'll mention that Bees of the World book cover. The image is a fly.
Ladybugs, aka ladybeetles (family Coccinellidae), are best known for devouring aphids, those pesky little critters that suck plant juices.
But have you ever seen ladybugs gobbling ants?
There's a three-way predator-prey relationship here. When aphids pierce plant stems, they leave behind honeydew excretions. Ants scurry to the honeydew and quickly alert their buddies. Soon, you'll see a long trail of ants marching toward the honeydew.
Now enter the ladybug, which is attracted--quite nicely, thank you--to both aphids and ants.
This little beetle will feast on aphids and ants much like we humans chow down on popcorn and jelly beans at a movie.
In the photos below, unsuspecting ants climbed a lavender stalk, only to meet their demise.
If you look on You Tube, you'll see a video of an apparently famished ladybug chowing down ants. The background music of Queen's "We Will Rock You" adds the finishing touch.
Want to learn more about ants? Check out professor Phil Ward's website. He's a noted myrmecologist (one who studies the taxonomy, evolution, biogeography and behavior of ants) and a professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
One of his former graduate students, Alex Wild, has incredible insect photography on his website, appropriately named myrmecos.net.
If you're accustomed to seeing ants crawl, wait a minute...some can actually jump.
Ants? Jump? Like leaping lizards?
Harpegnathos saltator, aka Jerdon's jumping ant, a species found in India, can indeed jump. It can leap a distance of about 10 centimeters (about 3.9 inches). It does this to catch prey and to escape sticky situations.
Christian Peeters, director of the Laboratoire d’Ecologie, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, will talk about Jerdon's jumping ant when he discusses his research at a noon lecture on Wednesday, April 15 in 122 Briggs Hall, University of California, Davis. His topic is “Recurrent Selection Against Winged Queens in Ants, and Shifts in Life History Traits.”
This exquisite photo (below) of Jerdon's jumping ant is the work of entomologist-insect photographer Alex Wild, who received his Ph.D. from UC Davis (his major professor was Phil Ward). Wild is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois. You'll want to visit his Web sites often to view his amazing work. One site is at http://www.myrmecos.net and the other at http://www.alexanderwild.com.