It's almost the end of the season for the European wool carder bee, Anthidium manicatum.
A few still hang around the foxgloves, the catmint and the African blue basil in our pollinator garden. They really stand out when they're visiting the hot pink foxgloves (by the way, all parts are poisonous except for the roots), but they're difficult to see when they line up with the African blue basil and the catmint.
Natives of Europe, they were named "carder bees" because the females collect or "card" plant hairs for their nests. The bees, about the size of honey bees, are mostly black and yellow. The females range in body length from 11 to 13 millimeters, while the males are 14 to 17 mm. The males are very territorial as they protect their turf and bodyslam other insects.
These colorful bees were first detected in the United States (New York) in 1963, and first recorded in California (Sunnyvale) in 2007. By 2008, they were well established in the Central Valley, according to Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology. We saw our first one in Vacaville in the spring of 2010.
The bee, according to research entomologist Tom Zavortink of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, was accidentally introduced into New York state. It was not purposefully introduced to pollinate alfalfa, as some reports allege, he said.
Writing in a 2008 edition of the Pan-Pacific Entomologist, Zavortink and fellow entomologist Sandra Shanks, now of Port Townsend, Wash., pointed out that several papers “have documented its spread from neighboring areas in the northeastern United States and southern Canada” and that the species has since crossed the country. It was confirmed in Colorado in 2005, Missouri in 2006, and Maine, Michigan, Maryland and California (Sunnyvale) in 2007, the entomologists wrote. Records show it was first collected in Davis on July 26, 2007.
Its plant preferences include lamb's ear (Stachys byzantine, in the mint family Lamiaceae), a perennial grown for its fuzzy, silvery gray-green foliage. It's also been collected in the figwort/snapdragon family (Scrophulariacae) and the pea and bean family (Fabaceae), according to the Zavortink-Shanks research.
In our yard, they're partial to the foxgloves (shaded) and catmint (full sun). They don't seem to like the lamb's ear (full sun).
They also don't like my camera. The slightest movement, and off they go.
If you're trying to find a praying mantis in the wild, go where the food source is.
Sounds pretty easy, right? But oh, they're camouflaged. They lie in wait, as ambush predators, and strike. Now you see the predator, now you don't. Where did it go?
"Observations of most species tend to peak in late summer and early fall, when individuals are at full size and seeking mates. Only the egg cases survive winter."--Field Guide to California Insects, second edition, authored by Kip Will, Joyce Gross, Daniel Rubinoff and Jerry Powell.
Lately we've been looking for what UC Davis alumnus and praying mantis expert Lohit Garikipati, now a master's student at Towson (Maryland) University, identified as a "male subadult Stagmomantis limbata" in our African blue basil.
We saw Mr. Mantis for a few days in the basil, and then he disappeared. Vanished. Gone. Evaporated. Maybe he lost his head to the current resident? That would be a subadult female Stagmomantis limbata, according to praying mantis expert Lohit Garikipati, a UC Davis alumnus studying for his master's degree at Towson (Maryland) University.
We saw the female today, tucked beneath a basil leaf, with only her head and feet showing. I
In their book, California Bees and Blooms: a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, UC authors Gordon Frankie, UC Berkeley professor, the late Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, and Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter, also affiliated with UC Berkeley, recommend that pollinator gardens include African blue basil, Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum 'Dark Opal.'
Plant basil and the bees will come.
So will praying mantids. They are opportunistic predators who polish off both pests and pollinators.
All are welcome in our pollinator garden. All.
Have you ever seen a green-legged praying mantis on a green leaf?
Praying mantis expert Lohitashwa "Lohit" Garikipati, identified this species as a subadult male, Stagmomantis limbata, perched in a patch of African blue basil in our family's pollinator garden. When the temperature soared to 105 degrees, Mr. Mantis escaped the heat by slipping beneath the leaf. Mantids are not only great ambush predators but they know how to keep cool!
But the green legs?
We asked Garikipati, a UC Davis entomology graduate now studying for his master's degree with biologist Christopher Oufiero, an associate professor at Towson University, Towson, MD. While a UC Davis student, he showed mantids at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open houses.
"Your observation is interesting and it's a rather interesting phenomenon tha'ts often noticed by mantis researchers observing wild specimens," Garikipati said. "I've found numerous individuals on foliage that is more or less the same color as they are--they could easily choose to sit somewhere else, yet they choose to sit on that particular color of foliage. How much of this is color matching is hard to say--some species can alter their coloration within an instar, others take multiple molts to do so."
Through his personal observations in rearing S. limbata, Garikipati said "they only seem to be able to drastically change over multiple instars. It's possible that this individual has lived on that plant for a period of time. Even if that is the case, its absolutely incredible that they are able to color match to their surroundings--how the mechanism works I have no idea. Probably unsurprisingly, they are much more complex than we ever give them credit for."
Epilogue: As bees buzzed over and around his head, Mr. Mantis never resorted to "Green Legs and Bam!" (See YouTube video and hear the bees buzzing)
Me thinks Mr. Mantis wasn't all that hungry or maybe he was just too heat-tired to reach out and nab a bee with his spiked forelegs.
Honey bees absolutely love African blue basil. If there ever were a "bee magnet," this plant is it.
We first learned of African blue basil, (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum 'Dark Opal'), through Gordon Frankie, UC Berkeley professor and the late Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. They co-authored the book, California Bees and Blooms: a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists with Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter, also affiliated with UC Berkeley.
We plant it every year in our pollinator garden. Wikipedia calls African blue basil "a cross between camphor basil and dark opal basil. "African blue basil plants are sterile, unable to produce seeds of their own, and can only be propagated by cuttings.
"All parts of the flower, leaves and stems are edible; although some might find the camphor scent too strong for use in the kitchen, the herb reportedly yields a tasty pesto with a 'rich, mellow flavor' and can be used as a seasoning in soups and salads, particularly those featuring tomato, green beans, chicken, etc.," Wikipedia tells us. "The leaves of African blue basil start out purple when young, only growing green as the given leaf grows to its full size, and even then retaining purple veins. Based on other purple basils, the color is from anthocyanins, especially cyanidin-3-(di-p-coumarylglucoside)-5-glucoside, but also other cyanidin-based and peonidin-based compounds."
A final note that Wikipedia relates: It "blooms profusely like an annual, but being sterile can never go to seed. It is also taller than many basil cultivars. These blooms are very good at attracting bees and other pollinators."
Right. "These blooms are very good at attracting bees and other pollinators."
Wikipedia forgot to mention that blooms are "very good at attracting predators," like praying mantids. They go where the bees are, and the bees are in the African blue basil.
Can you find the mantis in the image below?
Find the praying mantis.
That's not too difficult, considering this Stagmomantis limbata is gravid (pregnant) and about ready to deposit her ootheca (egg case or "ooth") on a nearby twig or branch.
Sandwiched herself between African blue basil and Salvia “hot lips"--where the bees are--she found easy pickings.
According to Bugguide.net: "Females most often fairly plain green (often yellowish abdomen), but sometimes gray, or light brown, with dark spot in middle of tegmina. Tegmina do not completely cover wide abdomen. Hind wings checkered or striped yellow. Blue upper lip more pronounced in females, brighter in green forms and darker in brown forms."
A day after this image was taken, the mantis vanished.
Ooh, there's an ooth out there somewhere.