Bohart Museum of Entomology associate John De Benedictis, aka "Moth Man," brought a mantidfly, an insect that's parasitic to spiders, to the museum on Tuesday. He collected it while blacklighting at the UC Davis Stebbens Cold Canyon Reserve, Winters, a site maintained by the University of California as an ecological preserve for teaching and research.
It's a rare find. "It's the first one I've caught in 30 years," he said, recalling that the last one he collected was in the "1970s or 1980s" at Cobb Mountain Lake, Lake County, while he was enrolled at UC Berkeley.
This species, also found in the Bohart Museum collection, is Climaciella brunnea, said Wade Spencer, Bohart associate and UC Davis entomology student.
Climaciella brunnea looks somewhat like a mantis and a wasp, thus, this species is commonly called a "wasp mantidlfy." Its raptorial front legs remind us of how a praying mantis "prays." The mantidfly uses its front legs to catch small insect prey. Its coloring mimics a paper wasp.
Actually, this tiny insect is neither fly nor mantis nor wasp. It belongs to the family Mantispidae, order Neuroptera:
- Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
- Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
- Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
- Class Insecta (Insects)
- Order Neuroptera (Antlions, Owlflies, Lacewings, Mantidflies and Allies)
- Suborder Hemerobiiformia (Lacewings, Mantidflies and Allies)
- Family Mantispidae (Mantidflies)
- Subfamily Mantispinae
- Genus Climaciella
- Species brunnea (Wasp Mantidfly)
"As with most mantidflies, this species is parasitic to spiders as larva: the eggs of wolf spiders are their preferred host and larva will get themselves wrapped up with the eggs in the sac by the spider, since they cannot break into the sacs themselves," according to Wikipedia. "If the spider hasn't yet laid eggs, the larva will subsist on the spider's blood until then. Once inside the sac the larva will feast on the eggs until it pupates."
According to BugGuide.net, its range includes "the southern parts of British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec (Cannings & Cannings, 2006). Widespread in the United States. South to Costa Rica."
The University of Colorado Museum of Natural History notes that "C. brunnea has a very interesting life cycle. During their 3-4 week adult life stage, inch-long females may lay as many as several thousand short-stalked eggs, grouped on the underside of plant leaves. The eggs hatch and each tiny larva waits for a passing spider. The larva then boards the spider and rides around on it until the spider lays eggs. At this time the tiny mantispid larva crawls off the spider and into the egg sac, where it feeds on the spider eggs in the security of the silken spider egg sac."
"Different species of mantispids specialize on different species of host spiders," according to the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History website. "C. brunnea larvae are known to parasitize the eggs of wolf spiders long females may lay as many as several thousand short-stalked eggs, grouped on the underside of plant leaves. The eggs hatch and each tiny larva waits for a passing spider. The larva then boards the spider and rides around on it until the spider lays eggs. At this time the tiny mantispid larva crawls off the spider and into the egg sac, where it feeds on the spider eggs in the security of the silken spider egg sac."
The adults are often nocturnal but are sometimes attracted by porch lights or blacklights.
That rang true for John De Benedictis: blacklights.
(Editor's Note: The Bohart Museum of Entomology, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. It is open to the public Monday through Thursday, and on specially announced weekends. The next open house, free and open to the public, is Saturday, Sept. 22 from 1 to 4 p.m. The theme is "Crafty Insects." Visitors are invited to bring their insect crafts that they have made. They will be displayed next to "crafty"--sneaky--insects.)
Just as all lady bugs aren't ladies, all widow skimmer dragonflies aren't female.
A mature male Libellula luctuosa, aka “Widow Skimmer," (as identified by Bohart Museum of Entomology associate and dragonfly expert Greg Kareofelas), recently delighted us with a visit to our Vacaville pollinator garden. He perched on a bamboo stake and appeared to be considering his fast-food menu--leafcutter bees, sweat bees, hover flies, mosquitoes. Hmm...decisions, decisions!
Mr. Widow Skimmer was probably not expecting the unexpected--a strong gust of wind flapped his wings over his head! Talk about having bad hair day...
What drew us to him--besides the wind!--was his steel blue coloring and his broad wing bands. Look closely and you can see his three pairs of black legs. They catch prey with their legs and then use their "fangs" to raise it to their mouth.
"The species name means sorrowful or mournful, perhaps because the wings of both male and female seem to be draped in mourning crepe," observes BugGuide.Net. They're "found across most of the United States except the Rocky Mountain region. The range continues southward across the Mexican border. The widow skimmer has been reported from four Canadian provinces: Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia."
How did Kareofelas know it was a mature male, recently mated? Well, when they reproduce, they form a wheel or heart shape (the process of reproduction is known as "in tandem"). Kareofelas saw the marks on the male's abdomen where the female clasped the male.
"Mature male," he said.
Big Red visited us for four consecutive days.
The red flameskimmer dragonfly, Libellula saturata, zigged and zagged into our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. and perched on a bamboo stake for five hours at a time.
Occasionally, he'd hunt--lift off and grab a bee or other insect--and return to the stake to eat it.
Meanwhile California scrub jays nesting in our cherry laurel hedge eyed him. Hmm, there's lunch! And there's lunch having lunch!
Big Red knew they were there but paid no attention to them. He was more interested in the pollinators in the catmint.
He didn't seem to mind us. We eased toward him, about five inches from him. He seemed to know we weren't predators, but photographers.
According to Nature's Notebook (Connecting People with Nature to Benefit Our Changing Planet):
"This species occurs in most states in the western half of the United States from Montana to Oregon, south to southern California, east to Texas, and north through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming. There are outlying records in Missouri and South Dakota and a disjunct population in Houston, Texas. The species also occurs in northern Mexico (Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, and Sonora)."
"This species is typically found near warm water ponds, warm, slow streams, lakes, ditches, and hot springs- particularly in the northern part of its range. In Idaho, it occurs in high elevation deserts."
We provided the fish pond and the pollinator garden. And the bamboo stakes...