It lived--and quite hidden at that--through the freezing cold, the rain, and the wind. It surfaced today on a milkweed in our Vacaville pollinator garden.
Surprise, surprise! We neither saw it as an egg nor as a tiny caterpillar.
"Most larval mortality in monarchs occurs in the first 2 or 3 instars.. so they keep as hidden and low-key as possible," entomologist David James, an associate professor at Washington State University, told us. "Once they make it to the fourth instar, they are emboldened and are more likely to be seen exposed."
James, who studies migratory monarchs, earlier commented on the fall breeding: "The egg laying females you are seeing now are likely migrants that have eschewed reproductive dormancy for reproduction. This has probably always happened to some extent but is likely more significant now because of warmer falls. The lack of activity in summer in Vacaville was probably a function of most of the population having dispersed further east and north, maybe more than usual? They surely did pass through Vacaville in spring on their way north but clearly didnt stop to use your milkweeds. It does seem that some years they are more prone to frequent stopping/oviposition on their way north and east, yet in others they just keep flying. There's evidence that the latter was the case this year... with as many migrants making it to BC as to Washington...Normally they stop in Washington and only a handful make it to BC."
James is the author of a newly published book, The Lives of Butterflies: A Natural History of Our Planet's Butterfly Life (Princeton University) with colleague David Lohman of the City College of New York. The book, released in the UK on Oct. 3, 2023, will be available in the United States starting Jan. 9, 2024.
Irish scientist Éanna Ní Lamhna recently interviewed the WSU entomologist in a podcast on RTÉ, or Raidió Teilifís Éireann. The book, Lamhna said, "showcases extraordinary diversity of world's butterflies, while exploring their life histories, behavior, conservation and other aspects of these most fascinating and beguiling insects." (See Bug Squad blog). Listen to the butterfly podcast here:
Meanwhile, we checked another milkweed plant in the garden today and spotted another caterpillar, this one a little smaller and less active than the first.
As UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, commented: "So much for diapause!"
Now our milkweed garden includes scores of hungry aphids, several species of milkweed, two 'cats, and maybe three (one 'cat went missing and is probably j'ing somewhere) and four chrysalids.
Will we have a Merry Chrysalis?
It wouldn't make the news, even if it were a "Slow News Day."
"Lady in Red Climbs Neon-Pink Petals in Search of Aphids."
Lady beetles, aka ladybugs, are coming out of their winter hibernation now and they're hungry. Aphid-hungry.
We spotted this lady beetle Feb. 7 in a flower pot containing an iceplant, Carpobrotus edulis, native to South Africa. Iceplant is an invasive plant.
"Iceplant was introduced to California in the early 1900s as an erosion stabilization tool used on railroad tracks, and later used by Caltrans on roadsides," according to an article, "Invasive to Avoid--Iceplant," posted by the California Fish and Wildlife. "It has been used as an ornamental for many years, and is still sold in nurseries. Unfortunately, iceplant spreads easily, and has become invasive in coastal California from north of Humboldt County to as far south as Baja California. When it establishes in a location, it forms a large, thick mat that chokes out all other native plants and alters the soil composition of the environment. Because it is a coastal invader, it competes with many endangered, threatened, and rare plants." (See what Calflora.org says about it.)
California has about 200 species of lady beetles. Check out the lady beetles on the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) to see many of the species. They are voracious consumers of aphids and other soft-bodied insects.
Meanwhile, a news flash: "Lady in Red Climbs Neon-Pink Petals..."
Her dissertation proposal begins at 10:30 in 122 Briggs Hall and also will be virtual. The Zoom link: https://ucdavis.zoom.us/j/
“In the proposed research, I will study the effectiveness of both automated precision spray applications and drone-mediated releases of biological control agents for the suppression of lettuce aphid and western flower thrips in several contexts," she says in her abstract. "I hope that the results of the proposed research will contribute to the development of best-use practices to guide the use of both technologies."
"I will generate novel data that fill existing knowledge gaps regarding the use of precision insecticide applications and drone releases of natural enemies in lettuce production systems. This will advance the adoption of these new pest management tools and contribute to a more sustainable integrative pest management system for lettuce."
Addie received her bachelor's degree in molecular environmental biology from UC Berkeley in 2011 and her master's degree in horticulture and agronomy from UC Davis in 2018. Before enrolling at UC Davis, she worked as a researcher under research chemist Spencer Walse at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) laboratory in Parlier, CA (2019-2021) and the UC Davis Contained Research Facility in Davis, CA (2012-2019), studying postharvest integrated pest management (IPM) of quarantine pests.
In her abstract, she noted that "Commercial lettuce production in California's central coast represents 70 percent of the production in the United States. Recent discoveries of some chemistries in ground and surface water in the Salinas valley region have placed the insecticidal chemistries used by the industry at risk of increased regulation. Automated thinner-sprayers use plant-detection sensors to apply chemical sprays directly to individual lettuce plants, so that the same amount of product to plants as a standard broadcast sprayer while potentially reducing the amount of pesticide applied per acre by up to 90 percent. Field experiments testing this technology for the control of western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis) and aphids, lettuce-currant aphid (Nasovonia ribisnigri) and others, were conducted to compare the efficacy of automated sprays to a conventional broadcast application system. Experiments were conducted in conventionally managed organic romaine lettuce fields using a complete randomized block design. Prior to and at regular intervals after treatment, heads were sampled from experimental and control plots to assess pest pressure. Results from this experiment validate the use of the automated sprayers to apply insecticides for the control of aphid and thrips pests in lettuce and will be discussed in the context of developing best-use-practices for this technology."
Abrams delivered a presentation on Rearing methods for brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys, on live host plants at the 2019 Pacific Branch of ESA, and has authored or co-authored several publications on stink bugs, including
- Ethyl formate dilution in carbon dioxide for fumigation control of the brown marmorated stink bug Halyomorpha halys, Stål (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae), Pest Management Science, 2022
- Greenhouse rearing methods for brown marmorated stink bug (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae) on live cowpea plants, Journal of Economic Entomology, 2021 (lead author)
Sulfuryl fluoride fumigation to control brown marmorated stink bug (Hempitera: Pentatomidae),Postharvest Biology and Technology, 2020 (lead author)
It's early morning, Aug. 20. A lady beetle is snacking on aphids on our native milkweed plant (where the monarchs are supposed to be, but aren't!). And then, apparently satiated, LB climbs a twig to the top of her Mt. Everest, looks around, unfolds her wings, and takes off.
The miracle of flight! The miracle of unpacking what's under those wings. The miracle of seeing it all happen.
"The ladybug is a tiny insect with hind wings four times its size," wrote Joanna Klein in her article,
Ladybugs Pack Wings and Engineering Secrets in Tidy Origami Packages, in the May 18, 2017 edition of The New York Times. "Like an origami master, it folds them up into a neat package, tucking them away within a slender sliver of space between its abdomen and the usually polka-dotted, harder wings that protect it.
"When it is time to take off, it deploys its flying apparatus from beneath its colorful shell-like top wings, called the elytra, in only a tenth of a second. And when it lands, it folds it back in just two. Switching between flying and crawling many times in a day, the ladybug travels vast distances."
Klein called attention to a study published in the May 17, 2017 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors, she said, detailed "just how the ladybug manages to cram these rigid structures into tiny spaces is a valuable lesson for engineers designing deployable structures like umbrellas and satellites."
It's the work of Kazuya Saito of the Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo, Japan, and his colleagues, Shuhei Nomura, Shuhei Yamamoto, Ryuma Niiyama and Yoji Okabe.
The title? "Investigation of Hindwing Folding in Ladybird Beetles by Artificial Elytron Transplantation and Microcomputed Tomography."
The significance? "Hindwings in ladybird beetles successfully achieve compatibility between the deformability (instability) required for wing folding and strength property (stability) required for flying. This study demonstrates how ladybird beetles address these two conflicting requirements by an unprecedented technique using artificial wings. Our results, which clarify the detailed wing-folding process and reveal the supporting structures, provide indispensable initial knowledge for revealing this naturally evolved optimization system. Investigating the characteristics in the venations and crease patterns revealed in this study could provide an innovative designing method, enabling the integration of structural stability and deformability, and thus could have a considerable impact on engineering science."
The abstract? "Ladybird beetles are high-mobility insects and explore broad areas by switching between walking and flying. Their excellent wing transformation systems enabling this lifestyle are expected to provide large potential for engineering applications. However, the mechanism behind the folding of their hindwings remains unclear. The reason is that ladybird beetles close the elytra ahead of wing folding, preventing the observation of detailed processes occurring under the elytra. In the present study, artificial transparent elytra were transplanted on living ladybird beetles, thereby enabling us to observe the detailed wing-folding processes. The result revealed that in addition to the abdominal movements mentioned in previous studies, the edge and ventral surface of the elytra, as well as characteristic shaped veins, play important roles in wing folding. The structures of the wing frames enabling this folding process and detailed 3D shape of the hindwing were investigated using microcomputed tomography. The results showed that the tape spring-like elastic frame plays an important role in the wing transformation mechanism. Compared with other beetles, hindwings in ladybird beetles are characterized by two seemingly incompatible properties: (i) the wing rigidity with relatively thick veins and (ii) the compactness in stored shapes with complex crease patterns. The detailed wing-folding process revealed in this study is expected to facilitate understanding of the naturally optimized system in this excellent deployable structure."
But back to our little lady beetle in our pollinator garden. It's difficult to catch a lady beetle in flight. They don't fly when you WANT them to, and when they do fly, you and your camera are NOT ready. And when you and your camera ARE ready, all focused and everything, they change their mind or change directions. So, in keeping with our motto, "Don't poke 'em, prod 'em or pin 'em," we waited.
With the morning sun behind her back, LB finally obliged and took flight.
We managed to catch the action with a Nikon Z7 with a Nikon 105mm lens, manually focused: F-stop 16; shutter speed, 1/2500 of a second; and ISO, 5600.
Here's hoping LB will return. She missed a few aphids!
Call them ladybugs, call them ladybirds, call them lady beetles, call them Coccinellidae, or just call them aphid eaters or deluxe aphid eaters.
And while you're at Briggs Hall, check out the insect-related displays and activities planned and coordinated by entomology doctoral candidate Danielle Rutkowski of the UC Davis Graduate Student Association. The events range from Roach Races (cheer on your favorite roach) to Maggot Art (dip a maggot in non-toxic, water-based paint and create a masterpiece worthy of framing--or at least, it can join your refrigerator art).