If you have a passionflower vine (Passiflora), you probably have cats.
No, not the four-legged ones that meow, chase mice or cavort with catnip.
These 'cats or caterpillars are part of the life cycle of the Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) and Passiflora is their host plant.
Watch for the chewed leaves, the frass (poo) and the chrysalids.
Expect a cat-tastrophe when predators like the California scrub jays, European paper wasps, and praying mantids appear and the 'cats disappear.
The circle of life...
It's early morning and the spider is hungry.
It snares a honey bee foraging for pollen and nectar in a patch of Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifola) in a Vacaville pollinator garden.
The spider slides down the sticky web, kills its prey with a venomous bite, and begins to eat.
The spider is not alone. It soon has unexpected dining partners: tiny freeloader flies (family Milichiidae) who did no work but insist on their share of the free food.
Indeed, orbweavers are artists. Wrote Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) in her poem, "The Spider as an Artist":
The spider as an artist
Has never been employed
Though his surpassing merit
Is freely certified.
Today was a good day for an unemployed artist, freely certified, too--and a good day for the freeloaders, certified hungry.
Emily Dickinson? She wrote many poems with references to such arthropods as bees, spiders, butterflies, flies and gnats,
Emily Dickinson's Arthropods
A pollinator garden is a study in diversity--and of inclusion and exclusion.
The residents, the immigrants, the fly-bys, the crawlers, the wigglers, the jumpers. The big, bad and bugly. The prey and the predators. The vegetarians and carnivores.
The nectar-rich flowers attract honey bees, bumble bees and butterflies. And right near them are the predators: the praying mantids, dragonflies and assassin bugs.
The assassin bugs, family Reduviidae, are ambush predators. They resemble human assassins (or at least those on the movie screen!): long narrow neck, beady eyes, and sturdy body. When they ambush a predator, they stab it with their rostrum, inject venom, and suck out the juices. Or as UC Berkeley entomologists Jerry Powell and Charles Hogue write in their book, California Insects, "The victims, which include all kinds of insects, are snatched by quick movements of the forelegs, and immediately subdued by a powerful venom injected through the beak."
Such was the case with the assassin bug, Zelus renardii, this week. We watched one lie in wait on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia); we watched another dine on an unidentifiable prey on a milkweed blossom; and we watched yet another stab a lady beetle (aka lady bug) on a leaf.
Everybody eats in the pollinator garden.
It was "hit and miss."
The predators hit, and they missed.
Oh sure, they took a chunk out of these Western tiger swallowtails, but as they say, "a miss is as good as a mile."
The predators? Could have been a hungry bird, praying mantis, or a spider.
The Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, a showpiece throughout western North America, populates urban parks and gardens. In color, it's a striking yellow and black, with spots of blue and orange near its tail. Its magnificent wingspan can measure 3 to 4 inches.
If you like to take images of butterflies, don't pass up the Western tiger swallowtail that's missing a chunk here and there. They don't have to be "picture perfect" to photograph--or to enjoy one of the wonders of nature.
Have you ever heard anyone say that when they see the larva of a lady beetle (aka ladybug, family Coccinellidae)?
Unfortunately, it's quite common among non-gardeners and non-insect enthusiasts.
The larvae of lady beetle are mostly black and look like tiny, spiny alligators, but they're beneficial insects just like the adult lady beetles. In the adult and larval stage, they're both predators that prey mainly on aphids, but they'll also eat thrips, spider mites, scale insects, and other soft-bodied insects.
An adult lady beetle can eat as many as 5000 aphids in its lifetime, scientists say. Who knows how many a larva can eat! Who's counting?
"Young lady beetle larvae usually pierce and suck the contents from their prey," according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program's website. "Older larvae and adults chew and consume their entire prey. Larvae are active, elongate, have long legs, and resemble tiny alligators."
You've seen lady beetle jewelry and t-shirts and the like (check out the gift shop at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane), but the larvae? They aren't represented.
They're well represented in many gardens, however. In our garden, the adults and larvae are polishing off the oleander aphids on our milkweed plants.