Thar's gold in them thar hills, and then there's the golden dung fly, Scathophaga stercoraria.
It's a red-eyed blond fly that definitely draws your attention.
The larvae are often found in the feces of large animals, including horses, cattle, sheep, deer and wild boar, where the insect breeds. The larvae eat the dung, making this insect important to natural decomposition.
The adult is a predator; it hunts for flies and other small insects. The adults also sip nectar, just like honey bees and other pollinators. For more information on these fascinating insects, check out the BugGuide.Net entry on the golden dung fly.
The insect was first described in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus as Musca stercoraria, according to BugGuide.Net. Cathophaga comes from the Greek word, "skatos," meaning "excrement" and "phagein" for "to eat." Stercoraria is derived from the Latin "stercoris," meaning "of dung."
So, Happy Friday Fly Day--from a Golden Goddess...of sorts.
Shapiro, a 50-year member of the UC Davis faculty, says that "Although it is a significant alfalfa pest, this butterfly overwinters as a larva almost entirely in annual vetch at low altitudes, and colonizes alfalfa only as the vetch senesces in May-June. Aside from alfalfa and annual vetches, it also breeds on a variety of clovers and sweet clovers and occasionally on lupines."
Have you ever seen a bumble bee sleeping?
If you slip out to your garden at night or early morning, you might find the male bumble bees asleep in, on or around the flowers.
The yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, frequents our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. By day, the bumble bees nectar on African blue basil, Mexican sunflower, lavender, salvia, foxgloves, catmint, honeysuckle, milkweed, California golden poppies and the like. Then at night, when the females return to their nests, the males find a cozy place to sleep.
They may cushion their heads on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) or straddle a lavender (Lavendula), holding on with their legs or mandibles.
Oftentimes they'll sleep safely and securely inside a flower that closes at night, such as a California poppy or a torch cactus.
Our Bombus residents seem to prefer the Mexican sunflowers and lavender.
Nighty-night. Sleep tight. Don't let the praying mantids and spiders bite.
Interested in bumble bees? Be sure to read the landmark book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday Press). the work of UC-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, (the late) Robbin Thorp, Rollin E. Coville, and Barbara Ertte.
Thorp (1933-2019), a distinguished emeritus professor with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, also co-authored Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press).
What's for dinner?
A crab spider, camouflaged in our lavender patch, didn't catch a honey bee, a butterfly, an ant or a syrphid fly.
No, it nailed a green bottle fly.
We couldn't help but notice. The fly's metallic blue-green coloring stood in sharp contrast to the white spider.
One venomous bite to kill it. And soon the fly, Lucilia sericata, was toast. Milk toast.
Crab spiders don't build webs to trap their prey. They're cunning and agile hunters that spring into action when an unsuspecting prey appears on the scene. They belong to the family Thomisidae, which includes some 175 genera and more than 2100 species. And they're ancient: spiders date back 400 million years ago.
Do you like spiders? You should.
“Spiders are an incredibly diverse group with more than 50,000 species described with probably another 200,000 remaining to yet be discovered,” says spider expert Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
It's worth repeating what Professor Bond said about spiders at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, “Eight-Legged Wonders,” on Saturday, March 9.
The five good reasons to like spiders:
- Spiders consume 400-800 million tons of prey, mostly insects, each year. Humans consume somewhere around 400 million tons of meat and fish each year.
- Spider silk is one of the strongest naturally occurring materials. Spider silk is stronger than steel, stronger and more stretchy than Kevlar; a pencil thick strand of spider silk could be used to stop a Boeing 747 in flight.
- Some spiders are incredibly fast – able to run up to 70 body lengths per second (10X faster than Usain Bolt).
- Athough nearly all 47,000-plus spider species have venom used to kill their insect prey, very few actually have venom that is harmful to humans.
- Some spiders are really good parents –wolf spider moms carry their young on their backs until they are ready to strike out on their own; female trapdoor spiders keep their broods safe inside their burrows often longer than one year, and some female jumping spiders even nurse their spiderlings with a protein rich substance comparable to milk.
So here's this Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) clinging to a lavender stem in our pollinator garden.
It is all alone--for a little white.
Then here come honey bees seeking to forage on the lavender, too.
One bee buzzes next to the butterfly's wing. Then it soars up and over.
Too much traffic for this butterfly. It moves to the nearby catmint patch.
The showy butterfly, a brilliant orange-reddish masterpiece with silver-spangled underwings, 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 butterfly populations of central California since 1972 and maintains this website.
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.”
The Gulf Frit's host plant is the passionflower vine (Passiflora). Plant it and they will come. Plant some lavender and catmint, too, for food sources. You'll be rewarded by the joy of seeing these beautiful masterpieces fluttering into your yard./span>