Monday, January 30, 2006

Mantis Monday for 1-30-06

I found this photo online a few years ago on the Kingsnake forums, and in my inexperience, copied it into my computer without saving any information as to what kind of mantid or where it was from. I just knew it was one of the coolest mantids I had ever seen. I haven't seen another one like it since then, and I still don't know what kind it is.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

In the news: Cochineal bugs

We have these weird and interesting little bugs at the arboretum. On tours, I like to point them out to the kids and even squish one to show the prized red color inside. (Yeah, I know, but it's all in the name of science and education.)

Here's a recent news article about them: - FDA: You're eating crushed bug juice - Jan 27, 2006

Monday, January 23, 2006

Mantis Monday for 1-23-06

This guy started out as a refrigerator magnet that my sister in law sent me. I gave it a brighter paint job, added some antennas, peeled off the magnet and glued a pin to the back. I wear it for most scheduled arboretum bug safari tours.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

When mysteries collide (UPDATED)

Here's something else I noticed the other day, but I didn't have time to post it.

Along the northeastern edge of the arboretum, behind the desert garden, there are several eucalyptus trees that nobody seems to be paying attention to. Way back last summer, when we (nature guides) were studying the desert plants, my attention strayed to the eucalyptus when I noticed that something had been eating them. At the time, whatever it was had apparently finished its life cycle or moved on, leaving just a lot of chewed up leaves. I made a mental note to check on the trees from time to time, in the hopes of finding a lot of something when they came back into season.

So, the other day, during my pre-Bug Safari rounds, I checked on the eucalyptus trees, and found a few of these mystery beetles, along with some tiny, aphid-like insects.

At first, I thought maybe the beetles were eating the aphid-things. But that didn't account for all the leaf damage. Then I thought about how the larvae of the three-lined-potato-beetles devastated another plant on the other side of the arboretum.

With the little wheels spinning in my brain, I did a search for eucalyptus pests. A few minutes later I found my beetle:
eucalyptus leaf beetle

I ended up solving 2 mysteries at once! I have yet to see the larvae, but I will keep an eye out for them, and post the pictures when I get them. UPDATE: Larvae and eggs posted here!

Biggest Bug Safari Ever

I will happily run around the arboretum, looking for bugs with the kids, at any time. Even so, I have mentioned more than once to the people who make the arboretum schedules, that there are a lot more bugs to see in the summer and early fall, and less in the winter. But in their infinite wisdom, they have scheduled 3 for this winter. And today, owing in part to the recent publicity, we had a record attendance. Upwards of 30 kids. Cub scouts, some repeat customers from previous safaris, and a bunch more who had just heard about us. And most kids had at least one adult tagging along. It made for a a crowd of almost unmanageable size.

There were nowhere near enough nets. The kids had to take turns with them. This was compounded by the fact that there were not a whole lot of flying things to catch. (They did catch a couple monarch butterflies, though.) We found stuff that did not require nets, like the last few monarch caterpillars, and a conveniently exploding population of box-elder bugs, but a few children were still bummed that they didn't get enough time to catch anything with the nets.

I tried to make up for the lack of large insects by bringing the trusty stickbugs, and an awesome Jerusalem cricket. I also rustled up a few Gulf Fritillary caterpillers from the far back fence. They made for a nice display, and I'm just hoping everyone had a chance to look at them.

O Jerusalem (cricket)!

My good friend Seon called yesterday, wanting me to help her identify a bug that her girls had found in their garage. She said she had never seen such a creature, and that it looked like a giant brown ant. I asked her if it had a big round head, and alternating dark and light bands around the abdomen. She said yes, and I told her to google "Jerusalem cricket," and see if it matched what she had. And so it did.

Then I asked her if I could have it. She brought it over last night, and here he is.

This is the most beautiful and magnificent specimen of a Jerusalem cricket I have ever seen. He is huge. (I say "he," but it could be a female. I don't know how to tell. Better get on that...)

Get a load of that face!!

I took him with me to the arboretum this morning for our Bug Safari. He was very distressed to be on display in an otherwise empty container, but I wanted him to be easy for the kids to see. When I got home, I fixed him up a nice terrarium, with rich soil, leaf litter and a little patch of grass. As soon as I put him in there, he seemed much more relaxed. He wandered around a bit, investigating the moist, dead leaves. Then he found the clump of grass and decided it was time for a well-deserved rest.

Goodnight, little friend.

I'm going to try to keep him until March. I would like to display him at 2 more upcoming Bug Safaris before I turn him loose. From what I've read, though, they don't keep well in captivity. We'll see what happens. I'll do my best.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Mantis Monday for 1-16-06

This bookmark was given to me by the nice lady who drove the Bookmobile when my boys were little. Just one of the many little tokens I have gotten from people over the years who said "I saw this, and I thought of you."

Friday, January 13, 2006

The caterpillar boom goes bust.

The monarchs have finally eaten themselves out of house and home. All that remains of the milkweed plants are the stems. There are still caterpillars on them. Most are big enough to move off and pupate. And in fact, if you walk away from the denuded milkweed in any direction, you will find many pupas, as well as caterpillars looking for just the right spot to make that final moult.

Some of the caterpillars that remain on the milkweed are trying to eat the stems. There are a few small ones that will probably not survive. The yellow aphids, who don’t need leaves, crowd along the tops of the stems, sucking the last bit of nutrition from the barren stalks.

A few of the pupae are defective, doomed never to complete their metamorphosis.

This one is questionable.

Nothing left.

Ichneumon Wasp

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Red Bug in Malaysia

This is a reply to Malaysia Flowers,who was looking to ID this bug. I can't pin it down exactly, but I think I'm pretty close. It's a species of Cotton Stainer bug. Order Hemiptera, family Pyrrhocoridae. Someone else, in Singapore, had submitted a photo of a similar bug here. (you have to scroll down quite a bit to see it, though.)

These bugs could be considered "cousins" to assasin bugs, having a similar body style and sucking mouthparts, but while the duller-colored assassins feed on other insects, these red guys suck the juices from the plants.

Nice macro shot. What a beautiful white hibiscus. Hope to see more flowers and bugs from Malaysia.

Monday, January 09, 2006

More out of place critters

I rescued 2 critters over the weekend that I found in places they shouldn't be.

I found this poor little salamander Saturday night, on the floor of my garage. He was covered in dirt, dog hair, and other garage-floor debris, and he had just lost his whole tail and his back left foot. I kept him in a container with some damp leaf litter, just overnight, so I could take a better look at him in the light of day. By morning it seemed he had survived his injuries, and I released him. These kind of salamanders are very hard to keep and feed in captivity, at least for me. I figure he's better off in his own environment. And I checked this morning under the little piece of wood where I released him yesterday, and he's still there, still OK, and there was another salamander under there with him.

If you click on the above photo to enlarge it, you will also see a teeny tiny snail, to the lower left of the salamander. I didn't even know it was there until I looked at the photo.

And this was a real surprise. A hatchling mantid. In January. So I guess it's more wrong time than wrong place. After I snapped his picture, I realized the poor little guy was almost dead. Was it the chilly nighttime temps, or maybe not enough tiny insects to eat? In any case, I brought him inside, and started giving him honey-water. He is slowly starting to improve. After I found him, I looked around for more, but couldn't find any.

Update - 1/12/06: Well, the little guy didn't make it. After a day or so of improvement, I tried to feed him, but he was never really able to eat. His condition deteriorated and he died last night. Oh, well...

Mantis Monday for 1-9-06

This is a model I built from a kit several years ago. It's from a company that mostly manufactures model kits for things like cars and airplanes. You know, the kind where you have to twist all the little pieces off of the "tree," find where they go on the exploded diagram that passes for instructions, and glue them together with that pesky tube of smelly model glue.

I never had an interest in building a model until I found this one by chance, in a hobby store. It had a sci-fi theme, something on the order of The Praying Mantis That Attacked New York ,
and came with a cardboard background depicting a city with its hapless citizens fleeing in fear from this monster. There may also have been one or two tiny plastic cars that could be placed at the mantid's feet, or maybe in it's claws. I threw away everything but the insect itself, because on it's own, it's just a nice, realistic looking praying mantis.

So here it is. It has spent its precarious existence on my bathroom windowsill, where it almost doesn't fit, and from which it has fallen a few times. It lost an antenna, which I was never able to find. To get an idea of the size of the model, I have posed it next to my toothbrush, which was handy at the time.

Monday, January 02, 2006

It's Mantis Monday!

Happy New Year!

I am starting a new feature today, in which every Monday I will be posting a picture of something from my praying mantis collection. It will include pictures, jewelry, T-shirts, plastic models, and other praying mantis-obelia that I have accumulated over the years.

These are probably my oldest images, dating back to my high school days. I don't remember how I got these little pictures. Each one is only about 1" X 2". I had them taped into my school notebook. Every year, even through college, when I got a new notebook, I would clip out these pictures from the old divider pocket and tape them into the new one. When I was done with school, I saved them and they became the beginning of my collection. I do not intend to keep to any particular order for the Mantis Monday posts in the weeks and months to come. I just wanted these guys to be first because they originally were the first.
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