So here are all these milkweed bugs clustered on a showy milkweed leaf, Asclepias speciosa. It's early morning and the red bugs are a real eye opener.
They're seed eaters, but as Hugh Dingle, emeritus professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology says: "They are opportunistic and generalists." They not only eat seeds, but monarch eggs and larvae, as well as the oleander aphids that infest the milkweed.
But wait, one of these is not like the other.
A lady beetle, aka ladybug, photobombs the scene. It sleeps with them and eats (aphids) with them. They are sharing the same food source: oleander aphids.
A little drama in the mustard patch...
A honey bee is foraging head-first in the mustard. She's collecting nectar and pollen. She does not see the lady beetle, aka ladybug, thrust head-first above her.
The honey bee is dusted with yellow pollen. The ladybug, not so much.
The bee moves closer. The ladybug does not move.
If there were any conversations between the two beneficial insects, it might go like this:
Honey Bee: "Hi, ladybug. Let's share the mustard, okay? You take the aphids--I don't eat aphids--and I'll take the nectar and pollen. Is that all right with you?"
The ladybug does not move. She neither sees nor hears her buzzing companion.
The honey creeps closer.
Honey Bee, louder: "I said, is that okay, ladybug? I'm here for the nectar and pollen! I don't want your aphids!"
Ladybug, mumbling: "Aphids? Don't even think about eating my aphids. Buzz off, will ya?"
The honey bee buzzes off--to find more nectar and pollen.
The drama ends as quickly as it begins.
Another day in the mustard patch.
The California poppy draws lots of visitors: honey bees, bumble bees and assorted other insects.
But a particular visitor we spotted March 15 on a poppy outside the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive, Davis, looked puzzling.
A beetle. But what kind of beetle?
"This is a ladybug—Paranaemia vittigera," said senior museum scientist Steve Heydon of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis campus. "It's a native of the western United States."
"Family Coccinellidae," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Ah, yes, our little lady beetle, aka ladybug, ladybird beetle. But this one was striped, not spotted. Fact is, ladybugs are not always red with black dots. They come in coats of many colors: yellow, orange, brown and the like--some with dots, no dots, stripes, no stripes, and blotches or no blotches.
"Although rather consistent in body form and habits, there are a great many species, with more than 125 known in California," writes retired UC Berkeley entomology professor Jerry Powell in his book, "California Insects," co-authored by Charles Hogue (now deceased), former senior curator of entomology at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.
Said Kimsey: "We have pretty old specimens from all over northern California including the Central Valley. They are native here. It's interesting, though, how little biological information I could find about them."
One thing's for sure: we're accustomed to seeing spots on our ladybugs, not stripes./span>/span>/span>
Ladybugs--actually, they're "lady beetles"--are garden heroes. And that's the theme of the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house on Sunday, March 2 from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane, University of California, Davis.
The event is free and open to the public. And, it's family oriented with lots of activities planned, said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator at the Bohart Museum.
“This time of year aphids are invading our gardens,” Yang said. “Garden heroes, like lady beetles, help us out.” Other garden heroes include lacewings, bigeyed bugs, assassin bugs, damsel bugs, and soldier beetles. (See a list of natural enemies on the UC Integrated Pest Management website.)
Another key attraction at the Bohart Museum open house will be a return appearance of the Budding Biologist, creator of ecology video games. Budding Biologist is an educational publishing company owned by Kristine Callis-Duehl, who is with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Irvine. This game is loosely based on ecological research being conducted by Louie Yang, assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Walter Hsiao, the video game developer, will be on hand to answer questions about game design.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses nearly eight million specimens and is the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It is also the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum in 1946.
The year-around gift shop (gifts are also available online) offers t-shirts, jewelry, insect nets, posters and books, including the newly published children's book, “The Story of the Dogface Butterfly,” written by UC Davis doctoral candidate Fran Keller and illustrated (watercolor and ink) by Laine Bauer, a 2012 graduate of UC Davis. The 35-page book, geared toward kindergarteners through sixth graders, also includes photos by naturalist Greg Kareofelas of Davis, a volunteer at the Bohart.
The museum is located near the intersection of LaRue Road and Crocker Lane. The museum's regular public hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Group tours can be arranged with Tabatha Yang at email@example.com or (530) 752-0493. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and UC Davis holidays./span>
What's for lunch?
If you're a lady beetle (aka ladybug), a good bet is you'll have one of those yummy, plant-sucking aphids. In fact, you'll eat your fill. Please do.
Today we walked behind the Life Sciences Building on the UC Davis campus and encountered scores of our polka-dotted, six-legged, dome-shaped buddies hunting for prey.
It was easy pickings.
This was a fast predator in a slow food movement.
Aphids were everywhere on the brittlebush (Encelia farinosa).
Call lady beetles what you will. Ladybirds. Lady beetles. Ladybugs. Coccinelles. Beneficial insects. All of the above.
Most people in America, however, know this insect as a "ladybug." It's actually not a true bug but a beetle. It's a member of the Coccinellidae family. Coccinelid is Latin for "scarlet," but not all lady beetles are scarlet with black spots. Some are yellow, orange and brown, and some with spots and some without.
You'll find coccinellids worldwide as there are more than 5,000 species, and of that number, more than 450 are native to North America, according to Wikipedia.
And they all "do lunch" with aphids, scales and other soft-bodied insects.