Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sluggish and meandering

My brain has been working a lot like this slimy slug trail. Moving slowly with no clear sense of direction. I haven't felt much like looking for bugs lately, but I will still grab my camera if one finds me.

See you later...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Blog catchup time

I haven't dragged out the ol' catchup bottle in a long time, but I have just a couple items of semi-old business that could do with a bit of the condiment.

The first of my little Ombu tree geometrid moths emerged last week. I'm sure it looks very similar to one of my many porch-moths. After I took this picture, I just left the top of the enclosure open so the moth could fly away, and I'm presuming that the second moth has since emerged and flown away as well. Also, yesterday I noticed there is still caterpillar activity under the Ombu tree at the arboretum.

My little rescued stick insect shed her skin the other night, and, just as I expected, the last 2 legs have grown out. They are still half-size, but fully functional.

In what may be my final posting on the Monarchs in Space, I saw that all 3 adult butterflies emerged successfully, but I don't know if they were given any food, or nectar substitute, or whatever they would need for nourishment. There was no mention of this on the website, either. They continued to post pictures of the 3 butterflies for a few days, until they started dying, and then they took down the photos from the last couple of days which showed only dead butterflies. I found it rather disappointing. I hope the Monarch Watch people will post some kind of follow up report about the project.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Monarchs in space eclosing

I was out of town earlier this week and I kind of forgot about the Monarchs in Space for awhile. So now I checked, and 2 of them have just eclosed today.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Bottoms up!

White collar grasshopper

In keeping with my traditional avoidance of Black Friday sales, I took a stroll through the arboretum. I was delighted to find a color scheme of the Gray Bird grasshopper that I hadn't seen before.

Can you see him in there? How did I manage to find him in that tangled little plant? It's a disease. I can't help myself. My eyes just go there. Obssessive-compulsive bug finding. That's what it is.

Look at that white thorax-collar he has on!

And here he is from another angle.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pupating in micro gravity earlier today

The middle pupa didn't attach and is free floating. The other 2 look dubious, but I think they're ok. I'll be able to tell better tomorrow. Of course there won't be much to look at for the next several days, but I'm wondering what will happen next. Can they morph successfully if there is no up or down, especially if they (or at least one) are drifting and shifting the developing parts inside? And what happens when they eclose? Here on earth, no butterfly would ever emerge from its chrysalis amid a flurry of floating frass. What's to stop all that poop from sticking to the wet new wings and messing them up? Assuming the butterflies do emerge OK, then what? Are they still going to live in that box, or will they be transferred to another enclosure? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Note: Try as I might, I can't make the whole picture show up in my post. Only 2 pupae are visible. But you can click the picture and see the whole thing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thankful for a lovely day

We have had such nice weather lately. It's so nice to just get out and walk around the arboretum without having to do a tour or something.
This spider was pretty tiny.

I like these wild-eyed flies.

Halictid bee

Honeybees on iceplant flower

Hairstreak butterfly

Ichneumon compsocryptus. A new one for me!

space station monarch cats looking good

Click here to get to a still-photo update page. It seems to be snapping pictures of the caterpillars automatically every so often.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Stick insect leg progress

My poor little rescued stick insect is now bigger and richer, by one leg. She shed her skin last night and now she has a right front leg.

The other two legs are developing just as I expected they would. They are now in the tiny, curly phase, and after the next shed they will be much larger and fully functional.

ready to eat a leaf now!

You can see her before pictures here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Spiders in space, too! (but this is old news)

I was looking for updates on the caterpillars in space, and I found out that last year at this time, there were spiders in space.

I also found a video of painted lady caterpillars that went up in space last year as well, with the same apparent experiment: to see if they could go through a normal metamorphosis in micro gravity. I haven't found out the outcome of last year's experiment yet, but I wonder why they are repeating it this year. Surely there must be lots of other simple experiments that students and scientists would like to try. Considering how rare and costly these space missions are, they should be doing as many as they can before the shuttles are grounded permanently.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Video of caterpillars in space

This first video is of the monarch caterpillars in their little space container. 2 of the caterpillars are supposedly getting ready to shed, so they're not moving around much.

The second video is of painted lady caterpillars that are also on this space mission. I didn't realize there were other caterpillars going up besides the monarchs. This video was kind of sad for me to watch, because the squirmy caterpillar in the middle is actually trying to shed its skin, and it can't seem to manage it in micro gravity. We'll find out tomorrow if it survived.

Update: 11/23

I guess they shed their skins OK. I found this brief video update on YouTube that points out the molts.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We have liftoff

So the space shuttle launched on schedule (for once!) yesterday, with monarch caterpillars on board. I am still waiting to see actual footage of the caterpillars, but there is more info coming in to Monarch Watch and their Monarchs in Space page, including links to schools and their Monarch projects, and this companion guide for those participating.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Who wants to see Monarchs in Space?

It sounds like a grade-B sci-fi movie. But Monarchs in Space is a real project, where live caterpillars will be going up in the next space shuttle (scheduled for launch Nov. 16) and taken to the International Space Station (ISS) where they will be reared to adulthood.

I only found out about this last week, on Bug Girl's Blog. The program is geared toward schools, and requires registration and a fee, and the raising of monarch caterpillars in containers, with artificial food.

I don't want all that. I don't need to raise a caterpillar in a container. I have them in my yard, for goodness sake! I just want to follow the monarch caterpillars on their journey into space! I want to see what happens to them. Is there a way I can do that? I looked on the Nasa Space Shuttle webpage, and couldn't find anything about Monarchs in Space. I emailed Monarch Watch, who are involved with this project, to ask how I can follow it as an individual, and was sent a useless form letter reply.

Then, I saw there is a Monarch Watch message board, so I registered and sent them this message. Let's see what happens....

Monday, November 09, 2009

Lizard in my doorway

3 legged stick insect

The other day, I was cleaning the stick insect tank in Mrs. W's class, and I came across this little (maybe L3) nymph with only 3 legs. I should have just euthanized her on the spot, but I took pity on her and brought her home.

You can see where one leg has already started to regrow. Assuming she can shed successfully with only 3 legs to support herself, that curly little leg will unwind and be considerably larger after she sheds, and the totally missing ones will start to regrow with little curly legs. I previously documented this limb regeneration process here.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Great information page with my beetle pictures!

CISR has put up their information page about the Eucalyptus Leaf Beetle with a bunch of my photos. You can see it here.

Yeah, shameless brag and self-promotion. :P

You can read about my original observations of these beetles here.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I missed it.

The butterfly emerged from this chrysalis sometime over the last couple days. I was not there to see it.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

An oldie but a goodie

One day last week, as Michael was walking home from school, he suddenly noticed a great big female S. Limbata female on his shirt. She must have fallen out of a tree or something. She worked her way to his backpack, and there she clung for about another mile, until he got home and set his backpack down next to my big, overgrown basil plant, and she (almost) disappeared into its branches.

She is clearly in the twilight of her life. Her gait is just a bit unsteady, and she has several black spots on her face and body that are a further sign of old age. But she is still has a good appetite, and she has been spending her days in the sun, picking bees off the basil flowers.

Here, she's giving herself a little clean-up after eating.

I like the brightly colored blue and orange on her mouth.

Geometer caterpillar goes underground

I had researched the other day to see how these caterpillars pupate, because I really had no idea. All I could find out was that some species go into the soil, and others roll themselves up in the leaves . I didn't know which way mine would go. This morning, I noticed one of them was resting on the floor of the large net enclosure. I kept checking on him, and by this afternoon, he was looking kind of puffy and scrunched-up. Clearly something was happening.

Working on the assumption that he didn't seem to be the leaf-rolling kind or he would have been doing it in an Ombu leaf by now, I set him in a small container with slightly moist, freshly composted soil. Sure enough, he dug down. I put the small container inside the large net enclosure.
Now, we wait.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Green Lynx in repose

The Dombeya plant is in full bloom. The pink flowers attract lots of bees, and sometimes I will find spiders taking advantage of the ample food supply (the bees, that is.)

This was a rather skinny looking female. Ordinarily, at this time of year I would expect to see her guarding an egg sac, or perhaps a recently hatched brood of spiderlings. But it was just her by herself, and I liked the say she had her legs draped over the flower in a most casual way.

Beneath the towering Ombu tree

For the last couple of years, I have noticed that something eats the leaves on the fast-growing young branches of the Ombu tree at the arboretum. Last year, right after I noticed the chewed up leaves, the tree received its annual pruning. All the chewed up shoots ("suckers", really), were gone. For most of the last few months, I hadn't really ventured under there, but last week I returned because I needed to prepare for our school tours. I saw the chewed up leaves again, but couldn't find any bugs... till today.

During today's tour, I noticed a child was watching a small caterpillar on his finger. When I asked him where he found it, he said, "Right here", and pointed to the Ombu sprouts.

I told him to please put the caterpillar back, and he did, although he kept and eye on it for the remainder of his time under the tree. And so did I.

After the tour was over, I returned to the Ombu tree and searched until I found the caterpillar again. I broke off a little piece of branch, and carried him home on it. I also found 2 dessicated caterpillars on it, and a small spider who I suspect may have killed them. (I think the spider got lost somewhere in my car.) The caterpillar is currently on my kitchen table, his branch staying fresh in a container of water. Close inspection has revealed yet another, but slightly darker, live caterpillar that I had missed earlier. So I have 2 now.

They look to be some kind of geometer larvae. It would be nice to find out what kind. They are nice little moths.

Invasive Species website

Today I received an email from a guy who wanted to use some of my photos on his website. I'm always happy to oblige in such cases. It doesn't happen very often.

In this case, it's for UC Riverside. They have an impressive website about Invasive Species. Here's a little blurb about them:

The Center for Invasive Species Research based on the University of California Riverside Campus provides a forward-looking approach to managing invasions in California by exotic pests and diseases. It is well recognized that inadvertent introductions of exotic insect pests, plant diseases, weeds, and other noxious organisms (e.g., exotic crabs and mussels) provides a major and continuing threat to California's agricultural, urban, and natural environments as well as the State's precious supplies of fresh water.

California acquires one new exotic species, on average, every 60 days. At this rate, around six new species establish in California each year. Estimated losses arising from the uncontrolled population growth of these pests amounts to an estimated $3 billion per annum. The problems caused by invasive species in California are likely to worsen as population growth continues and imports from an ever increasing diversity of countries accelerates. Read more

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A vegetarian spider

Kat has alerted me to the existence of a (largely) vegetarian spider species. It's name is Bagheera Kiplingi, (a name that will ring a bell for anyone who ever read The Jungle Book, but I digress)

There are several articles about it on the web. I chose this one to link to, because it has a little video of the spider, too.

My interest is piqued about the spider's food, something called beltian bodies, which grow on the leaves of some acacia trees. Ants are the main consumer of these beltian bodies. Now I need to see if I can find them on any of the acacia trees at the arboretum. (the beltian bodies, not the spider. It's native to Mexico and Central America)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pupation caught on video

Lucky me! I got to witness a Monarch caterpillar as it became a chrysalis, and I got it on video! Unfortunately, this was an impromptu thing, I had no tripod, so the focus kind of goes in and out, especially near the end when I got a little distracted because my son let the dog out and announced he was leaving for school. (I muted the video, so you don't hear my hollering!)

It's amazing when you think about this process of metamorphosis. Here is this creature (the caterpillar) who has been living in this body, and now after resting for about a day, the skin splits open and scrunches away, revealing the shell of its new body. And within that shell, the creature will liquify and re-form itself into the specifications that the new shell already suggests: wings, antennae, proboscis. A completely different creature than what it started out as. Yet, it's the same living being.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Baby lizard rescue (with update at end of post)

I found this tiny fence lizard on the retaining wall in our back yard this morning. He can't be more than a few weeks old. He was so cold and wet, he didn't even put up a struggle when I picked him up. I bet wherever he was sleeping last night got soaked in the rain, forcing him out onto the wall.

My original idea was just to keep him safe and warm till the rain cleared up. (It's supposed to be 80 again by tomorrow, up to 90 this weekend.) But what about the winter to come? He's so small and skinny. I worry he won't be able eat enough to build up a fat reserve to get him through the winter. I kind of want to keep him until spring.

Update, Friday, Oct. 16:
I guess he was in worse shape than I realized. The little guy died. I feel kinda sad, but I'm relieved I won't have to worry about him all winter now.

Small treasures after the rain

A tiny katydid nymph.

Shiny little flea beetle.

Rainy day spider

This afternoon when the rain had stopped, all the plants at school were covered with jewel-like droplets. I couldn't resist taking pictures of them. I wasn't expecting to find myself at eyeball level with a great big spider, but it was a great bonus! Now, just to provide a little buffer, I've posted a couple of the flower pictures first, so if you don't want to see a big spider up close (Julie?) you may want to skip the rest of this post.

And now, here's the spider....

Her web was strung with raindrop jewels.

Friday, October 02, 2009


These are nothing I haven't seen a bunch of times over, and I've probably posted better pictures, but, eh...


Painted Lady

Green lynx eating a bee

King of the stem

Late season fruit beetles can still be found here and there.

Same spider, different day. Still there from last week to this. I guess she'll stay there as long as there are flowers to attract insects for her to eat.

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