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!
Ladybug, ladybug fly away home
Your house is on fire and your children are gone
All except one, and her name is Ann
And she hid under the baking pan.
So says a traditional nursery rhyme traced back to 1744 when it appeared in Tommy Thumb's Pretty Songbook, according to Wikipedia. The first version has it as "Ladybird" instead of "Ladybug" and another version has it "Your house is on fire and your children will burn."
The nursery rhyme was meant to be a chant to shoo away the lady beetle (aka ladybug), according to freedictionarycom. It was "an allusion to the practice of farmers burning their fields after the harvest."
Nowadays, we're more interested in a ladybug's take-off and landings capabilities.
Have you ever tried to photograph the split second when a ladybug spreads its wings? It's not easy to do because insects are unpredictable, and you fingers and your camera shutter speed don't always cooperate, either. Beetle blur!
It's a marvelous feat, though.
Writer Joanna Klein said it best in her May 18, 2017 piece in the New York Times: "The ladybug is a tiny insect with hind wings four times its size. 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." (See the news story and watch the video on how a ladybug tucks away its wings.)
Yes, the ladybug is an origami master.
They're not exactly cute, cuddly little critters.
Some folks say they look like miniature alligators or "ugly, spiky orange-and-black buggy thingies."
Many a novice gardener has glanced at them, smashed them, and yelled "Gotcha! Now stay outta my garden, y'hear?
What they killed were the larvae of lady beetles, aka ladybugs (family Coccinellidae). They're beneficial insects, the good guys (and gals). Both the adults and the larvae of lady beetles feast on aphids and other soft-bodied insects such as scales and mites.
They are not your enemy.
And if there are kids in your family, show them this time-lapse video of the Ladybug Life Cycle by TSST. That would be "The Kid Should See This."
"One ladybug can eat up to 5,000 insects in its lifetime!" says TSST. "Most ladybugs have oval, dome-shaped bodies with six short legs. Depending on the species, they can have spots, stripes, or no markings at all."
Spoiler alert: You can't say that "no animals were harmed in the making of this video." Yes, there's some cannibalism. It's not good to be the last egg hatched.
It's Friday Fly Day--and time to post images of a syrphid fly.
Syrphid flies, often mistaken for honey bees, are pollinators, too.
Also known as flower flies and hover flies, syrphids hover over a flower before touching down. "Most species are predaceous, most commonly on aphids or mealybugs," according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program. "Some syrphids prey on ants, caterpillars, froghoppers, psyllids, scales, other insects, or mites. About 100 to 400 aphids can be fed upon by each aphid-feeding larva before it pupates, but this varies by the mature size of the syrphid relative to the aphids' size."
They are easily distinguished from honey bees because (1) bees don't hover, and (2) syrphids have only one pair of wings, while bees have two. "Their large eyes and short antenna also give them away, notes Kelly Rourke in a U.S. Forest Service article on "Syrphid Fly (Sphaerophoria philanthus). The absence of pollinium, or pollen sacs, is more difficult to see, but is another difference from a bee. Of the nearly 900 species of flower flies (family Syrphidae) in North America, most have yellow and black stripes."
Several years ago we captured images of a syrphid fly and an Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) on a rose bush in our Vacaville pollinator garden.
The scenario: Aphids were sucking plant juice on one end and secreting honey dew on the other end. The lady beetle was feasting on the aphids and getting sticky from all that honey dew.
Then along came a syrphid, a female Scaeva pyrastri, as identified by senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the Plant Pest Diagnostic Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture. It hovered over the lady beetle and then dropped down to lick the honey dew from the beetle's head.
'Twas a happy day for the lady beetle and the syrphid fly, but not so much for the aphids.
If you're an entomologist, an agriculturist, a gardener or an insect enthusiast, you've probably seen the life cycle of a lady beetle, aka ladybug: from the egg to the larva to the pupa to the adult.
You may have missed the pupal stage when the adult emerges--or mistaken the pupal case for something dead (what's that carcass?) or something regurgitated.
Fascinating to watch!
Lady beetles, from the family Coccinellidae, are beneficial insects (some 5000 species) that feast on aphids and other soft-bodied insects. Entomologists call them lady beetles because this insect is not a true bug.
Scores of lady beetles visit our little pollinator garden in Vacaville. They especially like the narrow milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis. Want to see a video on the life cycle? Watch The Stunning Life Cycle Of A Ladybug | The Dodo on YouTube.
Fascinating to watch!