It's early morning and the spider is hungry.
It snares a honey bee foraging for pollen and nectar in a patch of Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifola) in a Vacaville pollinator garden.
The spider slides down the sticky web, kills its prey with a venomous bite, and begins to eat.
The spider is not alone. It soon has unexpected dining partners: tiny freeloader flies (family Milichiidae) who did no work but insist on their share of the free food.
Indeed, orbweavers are artists. Wrote Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) in her poem, "The Spider as an Artist":
The spider as an artist
Has never been employed
Though his surpassing merit
Is freely certified.
Today was a good day for an unemployed artist, freely certified, too--and a good day for the freeloaders, certified hungry.
Emily Dickinson? She wrote many poems with references to such arthropods as bees, spiders, butterflies, flies and gnats,
Emily Dickinson's Arthropods
The honey bees love it.
So do the long-horned bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, European paper wasps, syrphid flies, butterflies, blister beetles, spotted cucumber beetles, crab spiders, praying mantids, and assorted other insects.
The Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) blooming in gardens around California and beyond is a delight to see.
A native of Mexico and Central America and an annual, it's a member of the sunflower family Asteraceae. In our yard in Vacaville, Calif, it blooms from May or early June through October and November--just in time for the migrating monarchs that pass through on their way to their overwintering sites along coastal California.
But for now, it belongs to the honey bees and the long-horned bees, such as Melissodes agilis.
We encountered this lone honey bee last week--a single bee in need of nectar but not in need of a dive-bombing by the male territorial Melissodes agilis.
The last image, of her in an upside-down stance and peering through the petals, indicates this bee is not about to let her guard down.
Want to learn about honey bees? Be sure to read Norman Gary's book, The Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees. Gary, a UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, has kept bees for more than seven decades and has held or holds the titles of teacher, scientist, researcher, author, bee wrangler and musician. Check out his website.
Also read the UC book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, by Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley, (the late) Robbin Thorp of UC Davis, and Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter, both affiliated with UC Berkeley.
Oh, the joy of rearing monarchs...from an egg to a caterpillar to a chrysalis to an adult...
However, the ultimate joy is not in rearing them, but releasing them--from their confined and well-protected indoor habitat to that Spectacular Spacious World Without Boundaries. Some soar majestically 80 feet into the air, never looking back. Some decline to leave your hand and just cling there on your finger. And some leave your hands only to hang around the yard for five hours. Hey, do I have to go? Can't I just stay awhile?
It's been said that in Nature, 97 percent of monarch eggs don't reach adulthood. Or, to put it another way, the survival rate is 3 percent. Conservation, even on a mini-scale (we've reared and released 22 this year) is what it's all about.
Another joy is this: documenting them as they fly off or nectar on nearby flowers. Monarchs may live from minutes to hours to several weeks, depending on predators, diseases, deformities, food supply and migratory mishaps. Some live several months as they overwinter along coastal California and in Central Mexico.
Speaking of life span, we were rather surprised that a video of a monarch being released--and then eaten by a diving bird--emerged as one of three $100,000 America's Funniest Videos. Funniest? Not funny. True, that's what birds do, and do well, but the humor escapes many of us. It was more of an "Oh, No!" moment.
On a more pleasant note, it's good to see an increasing number of citizen scientists planting milkweed. They know that milkweed is the host plant of monarchs; that monarchs will lay their eggs only on milkweed; and caterpillars will eat only milkweed. No milkweed. No monarchs.
For more information on monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and planting milkweed, check out the wealth of information on the Xerces Society's monarch website. And read the news release by the Xerces Society's Emma Pelton on the 74 percent decline in the monarch in the number of monarch butterflies overwintering in coastal California.
When I was teaching photography, I encouraged my students to go for the angles--from a bug's eye view to a bird's eye view. Holding a camera chest-high or at eye level renders the "same-o, same o" photos.
Yet another creative way to see the world is through a fisheye lens. With its 180-degree ultra-wide view,it grants a whole new perspective.
American physicist/inventor Robert W. Wood coined the term, "fisheye," in 1906, according to Wikipedia. He imagined "how a fish would see an ultra-wide hemispherical view from beneath the water (a phenomenon known as Snell's window)."
What does the raised bed of Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) in the Häagen-Honey Bee Haven at the University of California, Davis, look like with a fisheye lens?
Colorful, disorted, startling, intriguing.
Meanwhile, the volunteers who tend the pollinator garden every Friday morning are adding the finishing touches for the public open house, set Saturday afternoon, Sept. 15.
It's part of the Bohart Museum of Entomology's two concurrent open houses, themed "Flower Lovers: the Bees." Both will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 15. One is at the museum itself at 1124 Academic Surge on Crocker Lane, and the other, at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
They are free and open to the public.
The museum will showcase bee specimens from around the world, and offer crafts activities. At the haven, plans call for a focus on honey bees, native bees, beekeeping, garden tours, and crafts activities. And a focus on the permanent art in the garden, the spectacular work of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program.
Saturday's activities at the haven also will include a recognition ceremony at 1:30 p.m. for Derek Tully, 17, of Davis. He will be honored for his Eagle Scout project, building a fence around the half-acre garden. Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis, will preside.
It's a good day to bring a camera! But then, isn't every day a good day to bring a camera?
Sometimes you can't get within 20 feet of a Western tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papillo rutulus).
Sometimes it's a matter of inches.
That was the case this morning at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the University of California, Davis, when a lone Western tiger swallowtail took a liking to the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia).
The spectacular butterfly, one of the most recognizable of all butterflies, glided to the patch of Mexican sunflowers (so named because they originate from Mexico and Central America) sipped a little nectar, and then fluttered away, only to return again.
Not once, but dozens of times.
The haven, a half-acre bee friendly demonstration garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the main campus, features ornamentals, vegetables, fruits and nuts (almonds), as well as art work from the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program. It's open from dawn to dusk; admission is free.
The Mexican sunflowers, family Asteraceae, grow a towering eight feet, and are as orange as the jerseys of the San Francisco Giants. Today they attracted scores of honey bees, sunflower bees, hover flies, sweat bees, and yes, a spotted cucumber beetle (pest).
However, the "tiger" in the Tithonia stole the show.