When we last left Ms. Mantis, a female Stagmomantis limbata residing in our verbena patch, she was munching on a honey bee.
A successful ambush stalker, she was.
But not always.
Her plan to take down a duskywing butterfly, genus Erynnis, didn't go so well.
The butterfly, foraging on the blossoms, touches down near the predator, unaware of the trouble that could lie ahead.
The predator and the prey. The skillful hunter and the unsuspecting prey. Ms. Mantis is poised, ready to strike. The butterfly flutters away in the nick of time.
It will live to forage another day.
The mantis? It will live to hunt another day.
Yes, I'm hungry.
A female praying mantis is perched upside down in our pollinator garden. She has maintained this position in the verbena over a four-day period, enduring temperatures that soar to 105 degrees.
The mantis, a Stagmomantis limbata (as identified by praying mantis expert Lohit Garikipati of UC Davis) remains persistent, even as the temperature gauge spikes and the insects vanish.
Then on Saturday afternoon, we notice a few honey bees and Valley carpenter bees buzzing around her, and Gulf Fritillary butterflies and skipper butterflies fluttering next to her.
The predator and the prey. The hunter and the hunted. Will she be a successful hunter today? No, not today. Maybe tomorrow.
On Sunday morning, with the temperature hovering at 80 degrees, it happens. A sluggish honey bee makes the fatal mistake of nectaring on a blossom next to her.
Bad day for the honey bee; good day for the mantis. The mantis grabs the bee with her spiked forelegs, clutching it firmly, and begins to eat.
Freeloader flies, Milichiidae (probably genus Desmometopa), arrive too late to partake in the meal.
Ms. Mantis, now nourished, scales a verbena stem.
Am I hungry? Well, I can still eat a bite.
The Anise Swallowtail, Papilio zelicaon, fluttered into our pollinator garden and headed straight for the Verbena.
Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, identified the gender: "it's a girl."
The Anise Swallowtail, our first sighting of the season, bypassed the butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii.
But she'll be back--hopefully to gather some more nectar and lay her eggs on our fennel.
The Verbena patch was a little too populated for her liking--honey bees and yellow-faced bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii, wanted their share of the nectar, too.
"The Anise Swallowtail is a complex set of ecological races, or 'ecotypes,' whose seasonality has been adjusted by natural selection to match that of their host plants," says Shapiro on his research website. He's studied butterfly populations in central California since 1972.
"In multivoltine populations the spring brood is typically small, pale, heavily marked with blue and with narrow dark borders on all wings. Summer individuals are larger, with richer yellow color, broader black borders and little or no blue in males. Univoltine populations tend to be intermediate between these extremes. The small larvae resemble bird droppings. Large larvae are pale green with black bands containing orange spots; in hot, dry sites there is more green and less black, while under cool, humid conditions the green may even disappear! The pupae may be brown or green."
Read more about the swallowtail, including its food sources, on Shapiro's web page.
Meanwhile, whether you see your first Anise Swallowtail of the season or the last of the season, you'll want to see more of this yellow-mellow butterfly!
They're aptly named.
Leafhoppers are tiny insects (family Cicadellidae) that suck nutrients from plants.
But have you ever looked at them really closely?
We spotted scores of mottled leafhoppers last week on our Salvia mellifera (black sage) and Verbena in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. We stirred the leaves and these near-microscopic insects hopped off.
They. Hopped. Over. To. Other. Leaves.
"Leafhoppers feed on many different fruit, vegetable, flower, and woody ornamental hosts," according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) website. "Most species of leafhoppers feed on only one or several closely related plant species. Adults mostly are slender, wedge-shaped, and less than or about equal to 1/4-inch long. Leafhoppers generally are varying shades of green, yellow, or brown, and often mottled. Some species are brightly colored, while others blend with their host plant. Leafhoppers are active insects; they crawl rapidly sideways or readily jump when disturbed. Adults and nymphs and their pale cast skins are usually found on the underside of leaves."
Oh, to be a leafhopper and have those modified legs for jumping. They're not faster than a speeding bullet but they're faster than aphids, and they can "run sideways and jump," UC IPM says. "Some common leafhopper species in gardens and landscapes are the rose leafhopper, grape leafhopper, variegated leafhopper, potato leafhopper, and the aster leafhopper."
This particular leafhopper--note the leopard pattern!--on our Verbena is a Typhlocybinae (subfamily of Cicadellidae) leafhopper, Eupteryx decemnotata, according to Robert Lord Zimlich of BugGuide.Net.
What to do when you see a leafhopper on Salvia and Verbena? Grab a camera with a macro lens. Don't get too close, though, as they can "run sideways and jump," UC IPM says.
Yes, they can, and yes, they do.
When the monarchs return to southern California and central Mexico to overwinter, the residents rejoice.
When the bumble bees emerge from their nests in the spring, we, too, rejoice.
They are like the swallows of Capistrano and the monarchs of Pacific Grove.
So, on Friday, April 29, a native bumble bee, the yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) buzzed into our pollinator garden and headed straight for the verbena.
It skipped the tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii), the California golden poppy, the honeysuckle, the catmint, the lantana, the butterfly bush and other flowers in bloom and singled out the verbena, species native to the Americas and Asia.
In some countries, verbena is considered a healthy alternative to what ails you. However, modern-day researchers claim there's no scientific evidence that it can cure or prevent any type of disease, including cancer. It has long been associated with "divine and other supernatural forces," according to Wikipedia.
Says Wikipedia: "In the William Faulkner short story An Odor of Verbena, verbena is used symbolically and described as "the only scent that can be smelled above the scent of horses and courage," similar to the symbolic use of honeysuckle in The Sound and the Fury.
We're not sure what drew the bumble bee last Friday to the verbena (no horses or courage around here!), but it seems we're experiencing a dearth of bumble bees this year.
According to bumble bee expert Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, and co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardneers and Naturalists, there are six species of bumble bees that occur in Sacramento: Bombus crotchii; B. californicus, B. sonorus, B. melanopygus, B. vandykei, and B. vosnesenskii. "Of these, B. sonorus, used to be quite common but has essentially disappeared from the Sacramento Valley at least in recent years. We are not sure why this one has gone missing. Bombus vosnesenskii, the yellow-aced bumble bee is the most common species of this area, and of the entire state."
"The Western bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis doesn't quite reach Sacramento County," Thorp says. "Its historic range is primarily in the Coast Ranges from Monterey County north and the Sierra from Tuolumne County north. It penetrates into the Delta region, Contra Costa County (Pittsburgh and Antioch) and comes as close to Sacramento as Colfax and Nevada City in the Sierra region."