Friday, October 31, 2008

Cloudless sulfur

Well, for some reason I haven't yet figured out, Blogger is posting my pictures in the opposite order that I uploaded them. So instead of starting with caterpillars and scrolling down to the lovely adult specimen, you'll have to go backwards in time. Oh well....

In a previous post, I saw a female Cloudless Sulfur butterfly laying eggs on a little cassia tree. Now that same plant is just loaded with eggs and small caterpillars.

Beautiful female

I've never seen a sulfur chrysalis this color before.

Green larva on leaves

Yellow larva on flowers (buds in this case)

Another lizard friend

In the chill of morning, (if you can call lower 60's chilly), this tiny lizard had a little basking time on my thumb.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

An unlucky lizard's lucky day

I was at the arboretum for a tour this morning, and when it was over, I was doing a little bug-hunting. I heard something scuttling in the leaf litter under a tree. It figured it was a lizard, because we have lots of lizards, and the weather is warm enough that they are still active. But as I sought out the source of the scuttling sound, what I saw didn’t move quite like a lizard. A mouse perhaps? I thought I saw a pair of beady eyes before it submerged itself in the leaves. I waited a bit. The leaves began to twitch as the creature surfaced again. It was a lizard, with its entire head stuck fast inside what looked to be a palm kernel shell!

I picked up the lizard, and pulled gently on the shell. There was no way I could pull it off without wringing the reptile’s neck. There was no telling how long it may have been stuck, but I didn’t want to leave it to suffer for days or even weeks before it slowly died of thirst or starvation. So I brought it to the attention of a couple of the garden staff working nearby, Greg and Jonathan. They were appropriately impressed by the lizard’s predicament, and immediately began brainstorming about the best way to remove the shell, which was smaller than a golf ball, but extremely hard, like a coconut shell.

I tagged along (I found the lizard, after all) and we all went to the service yard, where an array of tools were available to try to crack the shell without cracking the poor lizard’s tiny skull! First they put it in a vice, but the roundness of the kernel made it hard to tighten without it shifting around in the clamp. I suggested that maybe we could use a drop or 2 of olive oil and "lube" it free, much as a person might work a too-tight ring off their finger. I don’t know if there was even any olive oil in the arboretum’s little kitchen, and I didn’t want to chance using soap on a lizard, but it didn’t matter, because the guys had already moved on to the next piece of hardware: a hacksaw.

Carefully and slowly, Jonathan sawed on the tough kernel shell with one hand as he held the lizard in his other hand. Every few seconds he would stop and check the progress of the shell. It was slow going. The lizard was squirming a little, but not as much as I was! Finally, the saw just barely broke through, but the shell was still intact. The next step would be to hold a chisel in the cut and tap it with a hammer. They set the lizard down, held its captive head steady and began tapping, tapping….

Suddenly the kernel shell gave way and split apart, and in that same instant the lizard dashed across the yard at an incredible speed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lizard move that fast! We all thought we might have seen something on its head. Whether it had been injured, or whether it was just a bit of shell still stuck on its head, we will never know because that little guy just kept running, but the fact that it could run so dang fast was encouraging.

Tools, empty shell halves and a long-gone lizard.
Photos by Greg Pongetti

Monday, October 27, 2008

The end, for one mantid

This male S. californica had been hanging around my front porch light for the better part of a week. I'm not sure, but I'd like to hope he was at least feeding on the various moths and bugs that come each night. But I think he had never found a mate, got distracted by the light, and ultimately didn't have the "oomph" to go anywhere else. This morning I checked and did not see him, only to discover soon after that he had somehow managed to get in the house. I picked him up. He was clearly weak. I carried him outside, put him on a plant and sprayed him liberally with water.

I just checked on him. He is dying. He will probably not survive the night.

Lefty, the tiny mantid I collected last week, is still doing well. I'll post some pictures after he sheds his skin, which should be soon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Bee Blog

Today's Blogger Blogs of Note has listed Linda's Bees. Linda has been blogging her experience with beekeeping since she got her first hive in 2006. Lots of detailed posts and pictures. Lots of links, too. I haven't had time to do more than skim through it, but it looks to cover everything you ever wanted to know about beekeeping but were afraid to ask!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mantis on bark

I found this pretty S. californica girl on the trunk of a pine tree. I just loved her brown coloring.

Looking at you looking at me.

Mellow Yellow grasshopper fellow

This grasshopper nymph made my day today. He's so yellow! Definitely the yellowest grasshopper I've ever seen. Not that his color suprises me. These gray bird nymphs can be just about any color.

Although he was hanging out on this Society Garlic bloom, there were Milkweed plants and some other things nearby that had yellow on them, but I'm not really sure where he was feeding and where he got that color from.


I found an unseasonably small mantid at the arboretum the other day. Pretty much all the other mantids are adults now. Why was this little one so far behind in his development? Was he late to hatch for some reason, or was he unable to find enough food? I decided to bring him home and take care of him. I named him Lefty because he seemed to have been "left behind". So far, he seems OK.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mulch volcano and mushroom villages

A few weeks ago, arboretum workers pruned the huge Ombu tree. It needs pruning every year, because it's heavy and it grows so fast. The severed limbs were put through a chipper, and the resulting mounds of mulch have been composting vigorously. Yesterday morning I noticed steam rising from the top of the pile, and it looked for all the world like a mini-volcano. Today, I returned with my camera to take pictures.

A brief video of steam rising from the mulch. The little black box is the LCD display for a temperature probe I brought along.

Mulch volcano, ringed by little mushrooms. I'm guessing it was too hot up on top for the mushrooms to grow.

The ambient temperature outside the mulch pile.

The reading with the temperature probe plunged about elbow-deep into the mulch. By the way, this handy little gadget normally gets plunged inside our Thanksgiving turkey, among other edibles. Don't worry, I've already washed it.

Views of the mushroom "village"

...and I need to have a bug in this post, so here is a little fly hanging out in the Mushroom Village.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Small bug

Looked like a teeny-tiny relative of a harlequin bug. Seen on the side of my garage.
Update: Identified as Bagrada hilaris. An African pest species just recently "discovered" in California.

Follow the signs (and arrows)

This morning I was at the arboretum, scouting for bugs for this weekend's Bug Safari, (the last scheduled Bug Safari of the year.) While scanning the passiflora for Gulf Frittilary caterpillars, I came upon a conspicuous trailing line of spider silk.

I followed it a little way...

... and it led me to this beautiful creature.

She was reeling in her silk line. I think she was eating it.

She had an enormous bum! Full of eggs, I'll bet.

I marked the spot on the trail with an arrow of twigs. I do this occasionally so I can try to re-find the bug in question at a later date. Crab spiders usually stay within in a small territory, as long as food is available. I will check on Saturday morning before the Bug Safari and see if she's still there.

Tumbleweed tale

All these bugs were on one tumbleweed bush.

Be sure to mouse over where it says "notes" for photo descriptions.

Porch moth

Friday, October 10, 2008

Just a few more spiders....

Some brown widow spiders at the arboretum this week.

This one, living under the Pavillion roof, seemed to have had a very productive life, by the look of all those egg sacs. Or should I say reproductive?

I came upon a family of green lynx spiderlings, all proudly showing off their discarded exoskeletons. The momma was nowhere in sight.

At this size, they're not even hideous. They're cute. I wonder, though, why nature makes them hatch in the fall, when they must spend their childhood living through a season of cold, wet weather and much fewer bugs than they would find in the rest of the year.

Compost critters

Big beetle grubs are tunneling through my compost. Every time I add stuff to it, or mix it up, I end up digging a few up.

These are just hideous. Not even handsome-hideous like a spider. Just plain ugly.

One last organic veggie stowaway

Found this little guy deep inside a head of organic lettuce. He had been in the fridge for a few days. He was dead :(

Swept away

This is truly the peak, or maybe just past the peak of spider season. They are absolutely everywhere. Sadly, I haven't seen nearly enough of the big orb-weavers, but there have been lots of widows, black and brown. This is a black widow male who had made a nice home for himself right over our front door. At Michael's urging, I got rid of him, but not before taking his picture several times. The yellow stuff is my broom.

The hour glass.

He really was a handsome fellow. In a hideous sort of way.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Cute but pesty

This cute little fellow is the 3 lined potato beetle, Lema daturaphila.

They can really chew up a plant.

Here is an old post about this insect.
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