They don't announce their arrival or departure.
If you're an insect photographer, or a wanna-be-insect photographer, expect the unexpected and don't go anywhere without your camera.
That applies to such simple things as walking out your back door and stepping into your pollinator garden.
It was Friday morning, Oct. 12, and we watched a gust of wind stir the African blue basil, tousle the milkweed, and whip the 12-foot-high Mexican sunflower. "Ah, wind," I thought. "A good day for dragonflies."
As if on cue, a variegated meadowhawk dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum, touched down on a bamboo stake, and looked right at me. I edged closer and "she" (gender identified by naturalist Greg Kareofelas, an associate with the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis) quickly left her perch.
I figured she would return and she did. Camera already raised, I slowly pointed my Nikon D800 with the 200mm macro lens and pressed the shutter. She left. She returned. She left. She returned.
A 'portrait studio' with the subject giving me "yes-no-maybe" answers.
In one view below, you can see the “bi-colored” Pterostigma on the wing tip and the two black spots on the top of the tip of the abdomen," noted Kareofelas. "This is unique to this species."
In another view, you can see the blurred image of a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) forming a backdrop.
Insect photography takes patience, persistence and perseverance because these six-legged critters don't announce their arrival or their departure, not like at an airport or a train station.
But they are there. "At any time, it is estimated that there are some 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects alive," according to the Smithsonian Institute. That's about 200 million insects for every human on the planet.
Your camera will find at least one of them at any given time of day.
Hide and seek.
She hides 'em and we seek 'em.
We've spotted as many as seven adult praying mantids at a time in our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. but never once have we seen any of them laying eggs.
We know that a praying mantid lays her eggs in an egg mass known as an ootheca or a protective egg sac. But always when you're nowhere around!
Not so this time.
Late Sunday afternoon, Sept. 23, Ms. Mantis (a Stagmomantis limbata, as identified by UC Davis student Lohit Garikipati, a Bohart Museum of Entomology associate who rears mantids) decided to grace our milkweed planter with a little present.
She climbed a redwood stake, looked around, saw me (oh, no problem, you're not a predator!), and crawled over to the other side. She positioned herself upside down, bulging abdomen intact, and proceeded to do her business. A frothy cream-colored substance began to emerge. (See my short YouTube video.) When darkness fell, she was still there.
"Now that she's deposited the ootheca, will she expire soon?" we asked Garikipati.
"It's still early on in the season, so she may lay another two or three," he said.
She may indeed. Mama Mantis continues to hang out in the milkweed, while her ootheca, like a flag on a flag pole, "commemorates" the spot.
It should be a warning sign to incoming monarchs.
The next day, we found the clipped wing of a male monarch.
Ever seen a Gulf Fritillary butterfly laying an egg?
The Gulf Frit (Agraulis vanillae), an orangish-reddish butterfly of the family Nymphalidae, lays its eggs on its host plant, Passiflora.
When you see its silver-spangled underwings, you may think there are two different butterflies. In the photo below, it's laying eggs on the tendrils of the passionflower vine.
It first appeared in California in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s, according to noted butterfly researcher Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. He's been monitoring the butterflies of central California for four decades and provides information on his website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu.
From San Diego, “it spread through Southern California in urban settings and was first recorded in the Bay Area about 1908," says Shapiro. "It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since.”
Shapiro says it “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.”
We never tire of seeing them. Especially the silver-spangled underwings!
He made a difference: a huge difference.
Dr. Casida, 88, a world-renowned entomologist and toxicologist at UC Berkeley who died June 30 of a heart attack in his home, was a global authority on how pesticides work and their effect on humans.
A distinguished professor emeritus of environmental science, policy and management and of nutritional sciences and toxicology, Dr. Casida was the founding director of the campus's Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology Laboratory.
When awarded the Wolf Prize in Agriculture in 1993, the Wolf Foundation lauded his “research on the mode of action of insecticides as a basis for the evaluation of the risks and benefits of pesticides and toxicants, essential to the development of safer, more effective pesticides for agricultural use." according to a UC Berkeley News Service story. "His discoveries span much of the history of organic pesticides and account for several of the fundamental breakthroughs in the fields of entomology, neurobiology, toxicology and biochemistry.”
“John probably had a greater impact on his field of pesticide toxicology than any scientist of his generation,” said Hammock, founding director (1987-present) of the UC Davis NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) Superfund Research Program and 25-year director of the UC Davis NIH/NIEHS Combined Analytical Laboratory. “His laboratory at Berkeley provided me with the most exciting years of my scientific career. In his own work, John moved from strength to strength creating numerous entire fields along the way. His scientific insight and drive were a constant stimulation to drive for innovation and excellence. Whenever I had an opportunity, I encouraged others to join his team. John was an inspiration and role model, not only because John came in early and stayed late, but also because he did science for the fun of discovery and taught for the joy of teaching.”
“John continued his high productivity until his death with major reviews on pesticides in 2016, 2017, and 2018 in addition to numerous primary papers,” Hammock noted. “He was working on primary publications as well as revising his toxicology course for the fall semester at the time of his death. Pesticide science was the theme of his career, and we live in a world with far safer and more effective pest control agents because of his effort.”
Professor John Casida opened multiple new fields ranging from fundamental cell biology through pharmaceutical discovery. "He pioneered new technologies throughout his career, from being one of the first to use radioactive compounds for pesticide metabolism through studies with accelerator mass spectrometry, photoaffinity labeling and others," Hammock related. "Yet the greatest impact of his career probably lives on in the numerous scientists he trained, now carrying on his traditions of excellence in science. These scientists are around the world in governmental, industrial and academic careers.”
Sarjeet Gill, Distinguished Professor, UC Riverside
"This project also allowed me to build a long lasting friendship with Bruce Hammock who also was on the same project. Since John was always very focused, I often challenged John's patience with my practical jokes. I am sure he knew who the culprit(s) were but he never revealed he knew.
“The research experiences in John's lab made an indelible impression on me that drove me to return to the United States from Malaysia for an academic career in the UC system. Personally, I have lost an incredible mentor, and the scientific community lost the most preeminent pesticide toxicologist in the last two centuries. John changed the way we investigated mechanisms of toxicity at all levels. I certainly will miss him dearly.
Bruce Hammock, Distinguished Professor, UC Davis
"After telling him I was there to be his graduate student, he replied he had no money for students. My retort was that I had a fellowship. He then told me that students were not space effective, and I promised not to take up much space. He continued that students were not time effective, and I promised not to take his time. In retrospect, Sarjeet must have really soured him on graduate students a few hours earlier."
"Months later, Sarjeet and I were sharing a desk-lab bench in the windowless closet next to the 'fly room' when Dr. Casida walked in. He had noted we both listed him as our major professor and asked if there was anything, he could do to encourage us to leave. When in unison we replied 'No!,' he politely left without accepting us, but soon we both had a desk and bench.
"So a few paces after Sarjeet, I initiated the most thrilling four years of my life. John's introduction to experimental science was marvelous with the perfect balance of inspiration, instruction and tremendous freedom. I was privileged to learn from a wonderful group of individuals and, of course, I made my most enduring of friendships with Sarjeet Gill. In addition to science, John taught a life-family-science balance by example. John was my life long mentor in science and in life but also evolved as a colleague and friend.
"Three more delightful years passed and John then took me to lunch at the faculty club. As I was about to leave the laboratory for the U.S. Army, he gave me sagely advice such as he had had it easy during the Sputnik period and I would have it hard. Then he went on to tell me than most people in the laboratory did not find my practical jokes nearly as funny as I did. I did not reveal that Sarjeet had both planned and executed most of them. Thus, Sarjeet succeeded in disrupting my Berkeley career from beginning until the end.
"John and his laboratory at Berkeley provided me with the most exciting years of my scientific career. In his own work, John moved from strength to strength creating numerous entire fields along the way. His scientific insight and drive were a constant stimulation to drive for innovation and excellence. Whenever I had an opportunity, I encouraged others to join his team. John was an inspiration and role model, not only because John came in early and stayed late, but also because he did science for the fun of discovery and taught for the joy of teaching."
Professor Casida is survived by his wife, artist and sculptor Kati Casida, sons Mark and Eric Casida, and two grandchildren.
(See more remembrances by UC Davis-affiliated scientists trained by Professor Casida on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website)
- John Casida Obituary, UC Berkeley News Service
- For the Fun of Science: A Discussion with John E. Casida (Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology)
- Still Curious: An Overview of John Casida's Contributions to Agrochemical Research (JAFC)
- Curious about Pesticide Action, by John E. Casida (JAFC)
(UC Berkeley New Service contributed to this post)
So there they were, literally dozens of dragonflies flying around two separate Vacaville (Calif.) yards, feasting on swirling clouds of prey (gnatlike insects) and then touching down on blades of grass or fence posts.
They proved as elusive as a celebrities attempting to avoid a paparazzi.
Dragonflies, but what species?
Bohart Museum of Entomology associate Greg Kareofelas of Davis identified them as variegated meadowhawks, Sympetrum corruptum. "Notice how the pterostigma is two-toned," he said. "That is the only dragon with that, also the two black spots at the end of the tail. They kind of migrate--or maybe mass dispersal is a better name. A bunch can show up if there is something to eat, then the whole gaggle moves on."
The pterostigma cell, located in the outer wing of insects, is often thickened or colored and so it stands out from other cells, according to Wikipedia. It is particularly noticeable in dragonflies, but is also present in other insect groups, such as snakeflies, hymenopterans and megalopterans.
"The male is commonly dark brownish black with an abdomen of bright red, pink, and golden brown," Wikipedia relates. "The thorax may be marked with a pair of yellow dots on each side. The leading edges of the wings are marked with pinkish. The females are similar in color but not as brightly colored, with gray and yellow replacing the red of the male. Young variegated meadowhawks are much paler and mottled with pale green, pale yellow, golden brown, and orange."
According to Odonata Central, "this species may be seen on the ground more than other meadowhawks. It will also readily perch on the tips of grass stems and tree branches. It can be numerous flying over roads, lawns, meadows, marshes and ponds...Mating occurs while perched on twigs, stems or other vegetation. Females lay eggs accompanied by males in the open water of ponds and lakes. Mass movements of this species have been reported on several occasions."
The variegated meadowhawk, native to North America, belongs to the family, Libellulidae. They're found throughout the United States and southern Canada, according to Odonato Central. "Also, Mexico south to Belize and Honduras."
Coming soon to a yard near you?