You're heard these idioms:
- The early bird gets the worm
- First come, first served.
- The second mouse gets the cheese.
But have you ever seen a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) eclose and then see her...well...engaged?
Such was the case on Labor Day, Sept. 3 in our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.
The female (we'll call her "Bride-to-Be") finishes eclosing and is hanging from her empty chrysalis, just drying her wings on the passionflower vine (aptly named) and getting acquainted with her new life stage and leafy surroundings.
Then, whoosh. A suitor (we'll call him "Groom-to-Be") appears out of nowhere. Well, from somewhere, but somewhere quite threatening. He looks tired and worn out, too fragile to fly. (As a colleague said: "He's accumulated a lot of frequent flier miles.") His ragged wings indicate a recent encounter with one or more predators, maybe a bird or a praying mantis. But he lucked out in the Predator-Prey tally: the final score, Butterfly, 1: Predator 0.
He lucks out again. He's the first to arrive at the altar. Our camera catches the action.
"In some Heliconius, the males locate female pupae and may even copulate with the female before she ecloses!" commented butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. "They are related."
Labor Day, 2018.
Any day's a good day when you find the ootheca (egg case) of a praying mantis in your yard. It's much better than finding an Easter egg.
Ootheca comes from the Greek word "oo," meaning egg and the Latin word, "theca," meaning a cover or container.
A few weeks ago, we spotted an ootheca (below) on our lavender bush. It's sturdily attached to a stem about a foot off the ground. Note the small hole on the right near the top, the exit hole of a parasitoid, perhaps a wasp or fly, according to Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
We're not counting our eggs until they hatch but we saw another ootheca on our lantana. And another one on a thin branch of an olive tree. Mama Mantis knows the best spots.
When springlike temperatures greet us, we expect some 100 to 200 praying mantids to hatch or emerge from each egg case. The nymphs will be hungry and will eat everything in sight, including their siblings. They do that, you know. No love lost. No brotherly love or sisterly love here. Bon appétit!
Then the young mantids will nab a few aphids and flies and other small critters until they are able to ambush and snag much larger prey, including honey bees, sweat bees, bumble bees, syprhid flies, and butterflies. And sometimes, a hummingbird...
If you see them hanging around your hummingbird feeder, they're not there for the sugar. They're not vegetarians; they're carnivores.
It apparently originated during World War II. Remember the 1942 film, "The Flying Tigers," starring John Wayne as Capt. Jim Gordon?
John Wayne, aka Jim Gordon, asks a Rangoon hotel clerk about a missing plane: "Any word on that flight yet?"
The hotel clerk replies that Japanese aircraft attacked the plane, but "She's coming in on one wing and a prayer."
Then there's the 1944 film, "Wing and a Prayer," about "the heroic crew of an American carrier in the desperate early days of World War II in the Pacific theater" (Wikipedia).
Fast forward to today, but this time with migratory monarchs. It seems that, they, too, fly on a "a wing and a prayer."
Over the last two months, we've seen dozens of migratory monarchs-often four or five at a time--stop for flight fuel in our 600-square foot pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. Many arrive in poor condition, their wings gouged, shredded and tattered. Still, they manage to sip nectar from Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia), butterfly bush (Buddleia) and Lantana, and continue their hazardous journey.
Imagine how incredibly difficult it is for these tiny, fluttering insects to weather the elements, not to mention evading birds, praying mantids and other predators.
Not all will make it. But look for some to arrive in the overwintering spots along coastal California "on a wing and a prayer."
That's not to say you'll see beneficial insects doing their thing—but you might.
The event, a walk and talk, is “Scouting Out the Hedgerows on the DH Long Farm,” set from 10 a.m. to noon at 8304 County Road 91B, Zamora. Coffee and snacks will be available at 9:45.
The workshop, free and open to the public, is sponsored by the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), Solano Resource Conservation District (RCD), Colusa County RCD, and the Yolo County RCD. Attendees are asked to wear "good walking shoes and a hat" and bring water.
The event begins at 10 with a welcome by Laurel Sellers, UCCE project assistant, Yolo County, who will provide a DPR grant project update.
Next to speak will be John Anderson of Hedgerow Farms, Winters, at 10:10. His topic is “Land of Milkweed and Honey: A Walk Into Beneficial Insect Habitat.”
Anderson will be followed at 10:35 by Sellers speaking on “Rodent Activity and Hedgerows: What's the Correlation?” Sellers is a master's degree candidate in international agricultural development, UC Davis.
Then at 10:55, Kristina Wolf, a doctoral candidate in entomology at UC Davis, will cover “Raptors, Rodents and Reptiles, What's in Restored Grasslands?”
Rachael Long, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Yolo County, will offer her insights on “Establishing Hedgerows: Protecting Crops with Insect Predators and Parasitoids” at 11:15.
Following Long's talk, Kelly Garbach of Loyola University, Chicago, will share “Hedgerow Survey Highlights.” A summary and audience review will follow.
For more information, contact Rachael Long at email@example.com.
Here's a good reason why you should not clean the fixtures around your porch lights--if you need a reason.
The lights attract all kinds of nocturnal flying insects. It's like the proverbial draw of a moth to a flame.
Spiders weave their webs on the light fixtures to trap their prey. If you remove the webs, you'll remove the insect smorgasbord.
Recently we saw an insect we'd never seen before on the light fixture: a praying mantis lying in wait, maybe to snare a moth or share the spider's bounty.
The porch light screams '"science project!" We remember our son's science projects in elementary school, including "Can a Plant Grow Upside Down?" and "How Fast Can a Yo-Yo Spin?" Somewhere the curious mind of a science student will look at the light on his or her front porch and ask: What insects are flying toward the night light and how many? How many predators are lying in wait? What do they eat? And, what roles do these lights and predators play in luring the insects to their death?
Meanwhile, the praying mantis has vanished. It's end of the season. Next year there will be many more praying mantids. One deposited an egg case beneath a table on the back porch. After they emerge and eat their brothers and sisters (no sibling love there!), one or more may hang out on the light fixture next year.