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>
I'm just a little ol' honey bee foraging on lavender.
I left my warm colony in Vacaville, Calif. to see if there's any nectar out there. My sisters are hungry. I'm not sure if we have enough honey to tide us over until spring.
Look, here's some late-blooming lavender amid all those frost-bitten blossoms. Mine! All mine! I don't have to share. No other pollinators around. No predators around like praying mantids and spiders, either. Just me. All mine. I'll take my time.
I'm just a little ol' honey bee foraging on lavender. You can take my photo if you like. Or several.
Just don't take my nectar. My sisters are hungry.
Think bees. Think butterflies. Think plants that will attract them.
Members (you can join online or at the gate) can peruse and purchase plants from 9 to 11 a.m., and the general public from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Members save 10 percent off their plant purchases, while new members receive an additional $10 off as a thank-you gift.
You can chat with the Arboretum folks to pick out that special plant you're seeking. They also provide an online list of available plants and/or you can download The Life After Lawn: Garden Gems Plant List.
Many of the plants at the sale are All-Stars. What's an All-Star? The Arboretum horticultural staff has identified "100 tough, reliable plants that have been tested in the Arboretum, are easy to grow, don't need a lot of water, have few problems with pests or diseases, and have outstanding qualities in the garden." Many are California native plants and support native birds and insects. Most All-Star plants can be successfully planted and grown throughout California.
If you miss the Oct. 7th sale, not to worry. There are two more fall plant sales:
Saturday, Oct. 21
Open to the Public: 9 a.m - 1 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 4
Public Clearance Sale: 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
It's a good idea to BYOB (Bring Your Own Box), BYOW (Bring Your Own Wagon) or BYOC (Bring Your Own Cart).
While you're there, check out the 100-acre Arboretum, including the nearby Ruth Risdon Storer Garden (aka Storer Garden), a Valley-wise garden,and the Carolee Shields White Flower Garden and Gazebo (aka White Garden). Have you seen all of the 17 special gardens and collections?
They're called "living museums" because that's what they are. Living museums. And especially when they attract pollinators!
So, here we are, a couple of stink bugs hidden in the lavender. Unnoticed. Undetected. Undisturbed.
We're loving the lavender, and we're in the process of providing the world with more stink bugs.
"Okay, we know, we know. We're red-shouldered stink bugs (Thyanta pallidovirens). You humans named us but you don't define us. You guys think we're pests and are always trying to research our reproductive behavior. And you're bound and determined to control us and our offspring.
"But, could we just ask for some privacy, please? Oh, what's that sound? Sounds like a buzz saw coming right at us!"
The honey bee touches down next to them and stops to sip some nectar. Her antennae brush against the couple. "Move!" she says to the stink bugs. "I'm trying to work here."
Nobody moves but the bee.