- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
It's no fun having a "hole in one."
A hole in your butterfly habitat.
So, here it is September of 2016 and we're at home rearing monarch butterflies as part of our small-scale conservation project to help the declining population.
The project involves growing several species of milkweed in our pollinator garden, and when we see caterpillars, we "bring them in." We fill a broad-based, narrow-necked Patron tequila bottle with water, add milkweed and 'cats, and tuck the bottle inside a zippered, pop-up mesh habitat (some call it a cage) to protect them from predators (like birds) and parasitoids (like tachinid flies). The butterfly habitat occupies a corner of our kitchen counter.
So, one day in September, I think: "Why keep the monarch habitat on our kitchen counter when it's so nice and shady and breezy by the crape myrtle tree in our backyard?"
So, I place the habitat on a wooden bench next to the crape myrtle. Ah. Mother Nature at its finest. Several caterpillars are in the "J" position (their position before they pupate) and several are chrysalids.
All's right with the world, right? Wrong.
The unexpected happens. The caterpillars begin shriveling. The chrysalids turn gooey brown. And right before my eyes--I happened to be in the yard at the time--I see tachinid fly maggots "bungee jumping" from their hosts. The maggots are sliding down their white mucus strings. Gleefully sliding, I think.
Tachinid flies, you see, lay their eggs inside a living host, such as a monarch caterpillar or chrysalis. They eat the host from the inside out, kill the host, and maggots emerge. They're white at first but darken and harden to the color of coffee beans as pupae. The adult flies emerge, all ready to mate and start the life cycle all over again.
But how did they get into the thinly meshed habitat? How?
It is then that I notice a single, tiny, ragged hole in the netting. And oh, look! Another tachinid fly is trying to slip in.
I photograph Exhibit A, B, C and D; clean the cage with bleach and water; and vow that the butterfly habitat is best inside, not outside.
A hole in one is no fun.
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Ready for those June weddings?
Coming to an altar near you...a bride and a groom. "When you marry in June, you're a bride all your life."--Anonymous.
"Look happy," say the wedding photographers as they focus on the bridal couple, and then single out the bride who will be a bride all of her life.
But if you engage in insect wedding photography, you'll find that June is a good month for insects, too.
Take those tachinid flies. Have you ever focused on them?
Monarch moms and dads--those who rear and release monarch butterflies--hate tachinid "weddings." They hate the bride, the groom, their families, and all future offspring. It's a hate-hate relationship.
That's because some members of the Tachinidae family are parasitoids, that is, the flies lay their eggs inside a living host (larva). The fly larvae eat the tissue from the inside out, killing the host.
That's good if you're trying to control cabbage white flies, cabbage loopers, alfalfa loopers, fall armyworms, variegated cutworms, codling moths, oriental fruit moths, peach twig borers, obliquebanded leafrollers, omnivorous leafrollers, oriental fruit moths, peach twig borers, pink bollworms and other pests. It's a "natural enemy" thing. See UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program.
That's bad if you're trying to rear monarch butterflies. You're appalled when your caterpillar shrivels and dies, and several fly maggots emerge. Or when your brown-stained chrysalis turns to goo, and out pop several maggots.
But back to insect wedding photography. We've never managed to catch tachinid flies feeling a little...uh...well...amorous. This amorous feeling is not mutual; to be honest, I still haven't forgiven them for what they did to our small-scale, rear-and-release monarch project last year.
Still, as a insect photographer, I consider myself a guest in their habitat.
So, yes, I walked away. I did. No insects were harmed in the making of these photographs.