Monday, June 30, 2008

The fortune teller

If fortune tellers can tell a person's fortune by reading the lines on one's palm, or by studying the the dregs of a cup of tea, then what secrets might these seemingly meaningless squiggles hold?

These are the telltale meanderings of a tiny insect called a leaf miner. It lives inside the leaf, and as it chews its way around, it leaves these scribbling marks. I have long imagined what sort of meaning one could make of the lines.

OK, this one probably has more information than I would care to know.

A goal for this summer:

To try to get a good, sharply focused picture of a walnut husk fly.

This is obviously not in focus, but it's about as good as I've been able to get so far. These are attractive little pests, with irridescent blue-green eyes, and wing patterns that resemble the threatening pose of a spider. Honest. Hopefully I'll show you, eventually.

Behold the mighty cactus fly

Mantis Monday for 6-20-08

Well, my computer and I have barely been on speaking terms lately, and I would love to post a picture here of a really cool mantis, but something's not cooperating in my little space-time continuum. So just click this link for a whole set of digitally altered and really neat mantid photos on respi78's Flickr.

Thanks, Andy!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hey, it's Pollinator Week!

Thanks to Bug Girl, I've found out just in time that it's Pollinator Week. And I've already sort of been celebrating without realizing it, with yesterday's bee post.

This news also comes just in time for our big Bug Safari at the arboretum tomorrow night. We can point out the pollinators in action (hopefully we'll see some before they turn in for the night!), and talk about their importance to the environment, and how people can help.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Some bees

Recently at the arboretum

A nice bumblebee with pollen

This honeybee has collected pollen in the pollen baskets on her back legs, but is also pollinating this salvia flower with the back of her head and thorax. I love the way these flowers have evolved in such a way that the stamens are pulled down to brush their pollen on the bee as she sticks her head down into the flower to get the nectar. Every time the bee visits another flower, she leaves a little pollen from the last flower, and brings more along to the next. This transfer of pollen is accomplished "automatically" by the bee thanks to the adaptive design of the flower.

It's a different matter when it comes to collecting pollen to bring back to the hive. The bees do it deliberately, usually by moving themselves through and around the stamens. Sometimes you can see them using their other legs to secure the pollen in the pollen baskets. Sometimes they get so loaded with pollen, it almost covers their whole body.

Here's a little video clip of bees inside a cactus flower.

Metallic green-backed halictid bee with lotsa pollen.

This swarm of honeybees was about the size of half a beachball. The next day I returned and they were gone.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

First green lynx of summer

This little spider was sitting on the opposite end of the same nasturtium flower as a baby katydid. It's possible the katydid became the spider's breakfast, but I didn't stick around long enough to find out.

Meet the competition

I am scouring every inch of the arboretum this week, looking for the best places to take people next week when we will host what may be our biggest bug safari of the season. So far, I've been a little disappointed with what I've found. Not too much yet in the way of good grasshoppers or spiders. Mostly a lot of small stuff, few and far between.

To make matters worse, the gardens are seething with wasps, who are also scouring every plant in search of tender larvae and other tasty morsels to eat. More for them means less for me.

Dang. There goes another one.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mantis Monday for 6-16-08

I haven't done a Mantis Monday in a while. Here's a lively mosaic.

Praying Mantis Dancing in the Grass by Pyari Cau

You can see a bunch more cool and colorful insect mosaics here.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Baby grasshopper

On the same plant as the dead bee, (is it a yarrow, maybe?), I noticed a tiny grasshopper nymph. I'm starting to see them all over the place. A new crop sprouting from the earth just in time for summer.

She died on the job.

I come across them sometimes: dead bees on plants and flowers. They keep working until they're too weak to continue. And they just die right there.

Asclepias eriocarpa

This is as much a reminder note to myself as a blog post. This plant is a native California milkweed species. Looks a lot different than the ubiquitous (at the arboretum) A. curassavica, which has the orange-red flowers, and which the monarch caterpillars normally prefer.

Last week when I was distributing the school's excess caterpillars throughout the arboretum, I stuck a couple on this plant. I've only seen a monarch caterpillar on it once before, but it was in the summer, and it was a fat, healthy looking one.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

51 caterpillars *

Even though the school is only a couple of miles from the arboretum, for some reason school has tons of monarch caterpillars and no milkweed plants left, and the situation at the arboretum is exactly the opposite. So, for the second time in about 2 weeks, teachers have besought me to rescue their hungry larvae and take them to the land of plenty.

Poor Mrs. M. actually bought 20 milkweed plants yesterday (at 6 bucks apiece, no less). By this morning, they had been eaten down to the stems. She was desperate. Mrs. W., who gave me 17 caterpillars to release just the other week, said her plants had recovered enough to take 20 of the smallest ones. Mrs. M. kept about 8 or 10 of the biggest ones that would be ready to pupate soon. I got the rest. I plucked them off the empty stems, from the rims of the plant-pots, from the walls and other surfaces where they had begun to wander when their food supply ran out. I just put them in a plastic box and took them to the arboretum. But before I made like Johnny Appleseed, (only with caterpillars), I took a picture looking down inside the box. That way I could take the time to count them later.

*There might have been a few small ones under the leaves that I missed.
Update: I turned today's adventure and pictures into a digital scrapbook page and posted it on Flickr.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A small comeback

I think things are returning to normal now. I want to get back to taking bug pictures and posting them here. I had a Bug Safari at the arboretum last weekend, and I snapped these shots while doing a little pre-tour scouting.

Tiny wasp #1. About half the size of a grain of rice.

Tiny wasp #2. About double the size of wasp #1.

Seed bug

OK, this wasn't at the arboretum, but I thought it looked cool. It's a collection of little dead bugs in my kitchen lamp. And, yeah, I need to clean it out. I'll get to it.
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