Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Defective butterfly :(

The slow, slow metamorphosis has finally come to its conclusion. It has not ended well.

Last month, with its little butterfly-tent literally rotting away, I carefully clipped the chrysalis from its moorings, attached it to a twig and set it up in a potted plant on my front porch. I continued to check it frequently, but not daily. I didn't see it flinching any more.

This afternoon, as I was getting my front porch ready for any possible trick-or-treaters, I noticed that the chrysalis looked dry and discolored. At first I thought it was dead. But when I touched it, the shell was cracked, and a living creature was struggling desperately inside. I brought it into the kitchen, and with a pair of small pointy scissors, I carefully snipped down the length of the chrysalis shell.
In the first part of the video, the butterfly had gotten itself partway out, but was stuck. I had to put the camera down and snip more of the shell to release it completely. The second part of the video is after I did that.

I have no idea how long the butterfly had struggled inside its shell, or if the yearlong wait had simply weakened it. But it was clear it would never fly. The wings would not expand. I tried to give it a drink, but the proboscis didn't seem to work either. I admired the beauty of the tiny wings that would never carry this delicate creature. Then I released it from this life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cloudless colorblast!

After waiting so long to find these caterpillars, I am really enjoying just looking at them. I love the color combination.

To really appreciate the colors you need to get up close.


And I always take the time to admire those fleshy little prolegs.

After keeping this lovely creature in a jar for a few days, I can safely say that those tiny droplets are not dewdrops, but apparently some kind of excretion. Which makes me wonder if those nubby hairs are not just hairs, but some kind of pores. I tried searching for this information. No luck so far.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A one year old mantis

Amazingly, my old deroplatys is still alive. For the past couple of months I have alternated between keeping her captive and letting her live free in the yard. I last took her in when the fires made the air so yucky. But now she is free again. As long as I can spot her in the bushes, I will offer her a fly on the end of a grass stem, and she will usually take it.

She is slowing down. Her eyes are starting to cloud over. She never had a chance to mate. But she still had a good long life.

Porch moth

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Monarch caterpillar report

Apparently, we have them at the arboretum.

I found a number of caterpillars in the big milkweed patch at the west end of the arboretum.

I felt a momentary rush of excitement when I came upon what looked like metamorphosis in progress. Sadly, something had gone wrong. The caterpillar/pupa was dead.

But there is still a whole season ahead of us.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Something for the Bees?

I got an email yesterday from Conservation International.
And they asked me to post a link to their page...just a little free advertising for them, huh?

"...McDonald’s and CI recently collaborated to launch the “The Bee Movie” Happy Meal. CI helped develop an online pledge for the Happy Meals, called “Bee Good to the Planet,” which encourages children to get outside, see what their backyards have to offer, and care for the environment. McDonald’s has also made a generous donation to help CI conserve crucial bee habitats around the world..."

Well, I'm not a big fan of McDonald's, but the website seems educational and fun for kids.
I've had some trouble getting the page to load, though. They're probably getting a lot of hits. So if it doesn't work, try again a little later.

Another cute little beetle

People sometimes gift me with bug-themed tchotchkes. I can't tell you how many times people say, "I saw this bug and I thought of you.."

This especially cute little jiggling ladybug was given to me recently by Gloria, fellow arboretum nature guide and Photoshop maven who created this hilarious photo of me riding on a giant praying mantis.

How cute is this?

And it's functional, too. There's a pencil sharpener in the bottom.

Thanks, Gloria!

Vedalia Beetle

I noticed this super-tiny ladybug cousin while I was eyeballing the senna plant in search of sulfur butterfly eggs. I had never seen one of these before, so I had to research to find out what it was.

Because it was actively feeding on a cottony cushion scale insect, that was a good clue to help identify it. Here is a web page with some good close up shots, including a larvae and pupa.
And here is a bit more info on the vedalia beetle.

Sulphur caterpillar eggs hatched

The sulphur eggs hatched Wednesday night, all within a couple hours of each other. I did my best to try to take pictures, but the lighting was not too good. Still, you can see one little guy eating his egg shell.

I transferred the tiny 'pillars to the little senna cutting, and very quickly lost sight of them among the leaves. Soon, the cutting began to seriously wilt. I guess it's too delicate to just keep in a container of water like I do with some other plants. I had to take it back to the arboretum and nestle the cutting into the branches of the senna plant, hoping the baby caterpillars, if they were even still there, would find their way to fresh food.

The good news: I was able to find some bigger sulphur caterpillars today. They really are beautiful.

Those dark blue spots have tiny hairs coming from them, most of which seem to be topped by a tiny dewdrop. I don't know if these are actually dewdrops or secretions from the caterpillar.
I'll try to find out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My next caterpillar project:

Ever since I first photographed this butterfly at the arboretum, I have been on a mission to find out where and when it lays its eggs, so I can see the caterpillars. Here is where my lack of botanical education slows me down. I knew that the host plant is cassia. I knew that the plant had small leaves and bright yellow flowers. What I didn't know was how to tell a cassia from so many other plants that had small leaves and bright yellow flowers. (a problem further complicated by a lack of identification tags on many plants in the arboretum.)

Recently, after noticing lots of the sulphurs flying around, I asked Chris, the plant curator, which plants were the host for their caterpillars. He said senna. So I found the senna plants, and started "watching" them. Finally, the other day I found some tiny caterpillars.

I took these pictures, and planned to collect them this morning, but our windstorms seem to have blown them away!

Fortunately, I did find a few bright yellow eggs today. I collected them, and will set up a little container with a sprig of senna for when they hatch.

Fullerton Arboretum Ombu takes a hit

The fires that have devastated Southern California this week have been pushed by the Santa Ana winds. These same winds have damaged several trees in the Fullerton Arboretum, including our Ombu. I found this photo online, taken earlier this year
Tropical Ombu
Photo by artisticnature

This picture was taken by arboretum staffer Joanne Lewis just a couple of weeks ago. We were in the "jungle" at the foot of the ombu, during a teacher training session for our Childrens Enviornmental Education Program.

Here's the jungle this morning. The area just beyond the orange cone is where we were all standing during our training presentation. To better appreciate the damage, click the photo to enlarge.

A view showing a little more of the canopy that was blown out.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Insect Fair today

After a busy morning at the arboretum, I couldn't resist squeezing in a little trip to the Cal Poly Insect Fair. Unfortunately, it was really crowded. In fact, being in that room felt a little like this:

To add to my disappointment, there wasn't anything new or different from the last couple of years. (except maybe this plastic bin full of live beetles for sale...) I didn't even bother taking many pictures, because the pictures I took in previous years already told the story. I labeled them as Insect Fair. If you want to see them, just click here.

Green Lynx Spider with prey

These beautiful green spiders catch their food not in a web, but by simply waiting, often on or next to a flower, for an unsuspecting bug, often a bee, to land within reach. I wonder sometimes if the bees ever get a chance to defend themselves, or are the spiders just too quick?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kinder, gentler

After witnessing the brutal outcome of my praying mantids mating yesterday, this pair of slugs tenderly circling and probing each other atop a garden drain-cover was kind of ... sweet.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The ultimate sacrifice

Earlier this month I posted pictures of my Iris oratoria mantids. A few days later, I put them together in a large butterfly pavilion, hoping they would mate. I released some flies in there every day, so they had food. The male watched the female every day, and very slowly over several days crept to within a couple of inches of her. They remained in a face-off for a few days. I checked them morning, noon and night. This afternoon, it had finally happened, and in the classic mantid fashion. As his rear end was busily doing its paternal duty, his front end was being devoured by the female.

I had to leave to go to a meeting. When I came home, all that was left of him were a few scattered parts.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A batch of posts

Another day at the arboretum, another batch of bug pictures (and a turtle.)
This time, I tried posting them all separately. They upload faster that way.

Another fall grasshopper blends into the scenery

Red shouldered

I always used to call these box elder bugs. I think they're really red shouldered bugs. See the red shoulders?


A nice macro from my point-n-shoot technology! The yellow part of this flower is about the size of the holes in your average looseleaf notebook paper. So that makes the wasps, if that's what they are ...tiny!


Little red-ear slider

This little guy was pretty small and pretty far away, so this isn't a bad picture, considering.

Cute little spider-devil

Looks like it has a little happy face, and a pointy little beard!! (except that would be oriented upside down in relation to the spider's actual face. Details, details...)

Bees with dark orange pollen


Little baby bugs

They sorta look like harlequins, but not quite.

Leaf footed bug

Friday, October 12, 2007

*Word of the day: Thigmokinesis

Thanks to Aydin Ă–rstan for teaching me a new word. He explains it in this post. I also found a detailed explanation, along with more information than the average person will ever need to know about woodlice, ("roly-polies"), on this web page:

"Thigmokinesis is a characteristic response of the cryptozoa (animals living in soil and litter) and has been carefully investigated in woodlice by Friedlander (1963). The response is such that the animal is most active when the contact with the substrate is minimal—that is, when only the feet are on the ground. As soon as other parts of the body touch a surface the animal slows down and may stop if enough of the body makes contact. Thigmokinesis causes woodlice to congregate in crevices between stems of grass or leaves in the litter where they are protected against desiccation and predators. Even other woodlice qualify as solid objects, so that thigmokinesis contributes greatly to the build up of aggregations.

Aggregation is one of the most characteristic forms of woodlouse behaviour and is probably, to some extent, a purely accidental result of individuals acting in the same way to the same stimuli, with thigmokinesis as a prime cause. What biological significance aggregation may have is uncertain and needs investigation. It is known, however, that bunching reduces individual water-loss...."

*This does not mean I will be posting a new word every day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Michael felt the need to avoid the front door last night, after seeing a cascade of spiderlings coming down from the porch light. For some reason, I didn't go out to look at it, and when I looked this morning, there were still a few hanging around. By now, they're all off to parts unknown.

This looks a lot better if you click the photo to enlarge it.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Those things are spines

I guess I had a bit of a lapse in my vocabulary yesterday. I just couldn't find the right word.
But according to the Field Guide to Common Western Grasshoppers, they're spines.

Illustration by William L. Stump

Yesterday's caterpillar today

Often, if a bug is happy, has enough food, and hasn't been discovered by some predator, it will hang around in the same location for a while. This caterpillar was curled up on a yellow flower in this post from yesterday.

Headless Honeymoon

This is an oldie but one of my favorites, and I don't think I've posted it here before.
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