Western spotted cucumber beetles know how to hit the spot.
Make that "multiple spots."
These beetles, Diabrotica undecimpunctata, are agricultural pests that feed on roots, seedlings, flowers and foliage. And they can transmit diseases.
But have you ever seen feed on flower petals when you're wandering around in your garden?
"Cucumber, flea, and leaf beetles are pests of many flowers, including dahlia, lily, and sunflower," according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) Program. "Adult cucumber beetles are shiny with black heads, long antennae, and about 0.25 inch long. Larvae are whitish and slender with three pairs of short legs; the head and tip of the abdomen are darker. Adults may be striped or spotted, depending upon species. Flea beetles are small, shiny beetles with black legs enlarged for jumping. Other leaf beetle adults are long, oval, blunt, and have threadlike antennae. The blue milkweed beetle adult is metallic green-blue."
"Adult beetles chew holes in leaves; some species also consume shoots and blossoms. Larvae of cucumber beetles and flea beetles chew roots, which can stunt crops. Seedlings can be destroyed within a few days. Older plants can tolerate relatively large numbers."
In our pollinator garden, spotted cucumber beetles are extraordinarily fond of our Mexican sunflowers, Tithonia rotundifola. We've seen them chew multiple holes in the petals.
Caught in the act!
It was a tough day for a Tettigoniid on a Tithonia.
When a katydid (Tettigoniid) encountered a crab spider on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola, in our garden, the katydid didn't last long. The spider administered a venomous bite and it was all over. The small, aggressive predator dragged its large prey beneath the Mexican sunflower to consume its meal. The cycle of life...
Do you know how katydids got their nickname?
The males have stridulating organs on their forewings and produce a shrill sound interpreted as “Katy-did, Katy-didn't."
Well, in this case the crab spider did (survive to live another day) and the katydid didn't.
Oh, the patience of a crab spider.
It lies in wait on the Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola, in the hot sun.
It scuttles back and forth, extending its legs. It's an ambush predator, ready to inject venom.
But it seems as if all the bees got the memo: "Crab spider! Beware! Don't buzz it! Don't go near it!"
And then a honey bee, seeking a little nectar and pollen, lands right beside it.
It's a moment in time between a predator and its prey.
The bee? It survived to live another day. The crab spider went hungry.
Just a morning in the life of a crab spider lying in wait on a Tithonia rotundifola.
When you're in your garden, look up.
Sometimes you'll see a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar outlined against the sky, munching away on its host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora).
The bright orange caterpillars can be as striking as the adults (Agraulis vanillae).
This caterpillar, however, is not the only critter hungry in the Passiflora. We saw evidence that a praying mantis also calls this home. One wing of a Gulf Frit here. One wing of a Gulf Frit there.
Everything eats in the garden.
In a previous Bug Squad, we mentioned that the Gulf Frits are found in many parts of the world and arrived in California (San Diego) in the 1870s, according to butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. They spread through Southern California in urban settings and were first recorded in the Bay Area about 1908, Shapiro says. They "became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since.”
Shapiro says the Gulf Frits “apparently bred in the Sacramento area and possibly in Davis in the 1960s, becoming extinct in the early 1970s, then recolonizing again throughout the area since 2000.”
Yes, they're back and a joy to see.
A female Melissodes agilis, the so-called "agile longhorned bee," is foraging on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola.
Longhorned? So named because they have unusually long antennae. Think of this species as the insect version of Texas longhorns!
Melissodes are ground-nesting solitary bees. While the males congregate on a flower to sleep overnight, each female is returns to her ground nest.
This female (below) rose early on July 3 to sip a little nectar while the males were fast asleep.
We find this species every year on our Mexican sunflowers, Tithonia rotundifola, in our family's Vacaville pollinator garden. It's native to North America and Central America.
They're a delight to see. The males are quite territorial as they target assorted critters on "their" flowers. As the late pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, used to say: "They're saving the flowers for the females of their species, so they can mate with them."
But if you're a "gal bee" and awaken early, you have the flowers all to yourself.
Thorp used to tell us there are some 20,000 undomesticated bee species are there in the world. Some 4000 species llve in the United States. And some 1600 species, including Melissodes agilis, live in California.
Internationally recognized for his expertise, Thorp co-authored two books in 2014: the UC California book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday) and Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press).