Sunday, July 25, 2010

Song of the day

After last night's ponderings of God and transformations, I woke up this morning with this song in my head!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

More praying

Please just let me hang on till my new skin hardens.
Please don't let my legs get deformed while I'm soft and vulnerable.
Please let me match the leaves exactly.
Please make that lady with the camera go away.

Finding God in a caterpillar?

I was watching this caterpillar the other day, getting ready for that final molt that would reveal the next stage, the chrysalis. I decided that since I had already captured a monarch caterpillar pupating on video, I would just sit back (well, maybe sit really close up) and watch and enjoy the process. I even dragged Jerry out to see it. He sat dozing nearby as I assured him repeatedly that it wouldn’t be long now.
So, as I was closely watching, I knew from experience that the antennas would change from rounded, fleshy stalks to empty, twisted strands as the time got closer. And the body that had previously been resting motionless was now twitching and convulsing. I also noticed that the caterpillar’s head and front legs were rhythmically pulling up and then relaxing, over and over as if it were doing sit-ups, but I also thought it looked…as if it were fervently praying.

I know I’ve said this before, but I think it’s a miraculous thing that this creature, which starts out as one thing, then transforms itself to something altogether different, yet it is still the same individual, only in a new body. Under this caterpillar’s striped skin, the mold has already formed for that new body. Has it just formed in this last hour of convulsion and prayer? Or was it slowly transforming in the past 24 hours? Because before that, it was just a caterpillar, still eating and crawling around.

As the moment drew near, the caterpillar, which had been in the “J” position, was now, momentarily, in more of an “L”. Then it heaved itself upwards, and hung almost straight down. I called for Jerry to come close now, and he watched with me as the skin split right between the two antennas, and the green chrysalis emerged. This chrysalis, which just moments before lay beneath the caterpillar’s skin, already revealed the outline of the butterfly to come. Amazing. Every time I see it.

I know that a caterpillar doesn’t have the brains to do more than perform the pre-programmed acts that are wired into its very existence. I always tell this to the kids at school. It has no emotions. No thoughts. Instinct drives it to eat, to avoid being eaten, to grow, and to reproduce. Just those things, and it doesn’t think about them. It just does them. It doesn’t have a concept of God. But sometimes, this crazy agnostic buglady feels the presence of God in witnessing the metamorphosis of the caterpillar.

A pinkish katydid

On the same buddleia plant as the blue green katydid, I found this pinkish one. This looked to be a different kind, but I'm not sure which. I have tried twice going back to find it, and I haven't been able to.

Dusty blue-green katydid

Spied this one on a dusty blue-green buddleia plant at the arboretum.

I love the markings on this guy. And I like how his little wing looks like an elf-ear.

I have pictures of what I believe is the same kind of katydid here, camouflaged to match a different plant.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

More monarch cat shots

I can't believe how fast these guys have grown.
They've been going crazy eating the seed pods.

Monarch caterpillar video

This is a little compilation of video clips I took yesterday of the monarch caterpillars on my single milkweed plant. At the end, you can see one of the caterpillars using its front legs to hold the milkweed pod that it's eating. Before this, I had only known mantids to hold their food.

Funny, after I put the little clips all together, the whole thing came out at exactly one minute.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Poop stuff

There's a pretty good-sized caterpillar somewhere in my tomato plant, judging by the size of those droppings. I looked above and around them, but I couldn't find it. After I took this picture, I knocked them off. Tomorrow I'll check the plant again and see if I can find the it.

And, after reading Vanessa Cardui's amusing post about boatman flies on mammal dung, I felt compelled to join the dog poop observation club, so I followed along with my camera as my dogs took their after dinner dump. I don't think think 30 seconds had gone by from the time Marley walked away, till the flies moved in, and I took this picture.

Attracting bugs with light in my backyard

Last night, after a long hot day, I set up my little black light and a sheet, and looked to see what showed up.

Mostly just a lot of little stuff. Very hard to get good pictures out there in the dark with my humble equipment. Lots of small beetles, although there were a number of June beetles, too.

Thought this was funny, you can see my ring light reflected in his shell.

A cute and very tiny moth.
I will try this again in another month or so.

A Vegetarian Mosquito

Sucking the juice out of a cucumber half on my kitchen counter.
I didn't realize it at the time I posted this, but male mosquitos are vegetarian. When fellow blogger Aydin pointed that out in his comment, I was quick to find a nice little mosquito fact page .

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Monarch caterpillars

I have one milkweed plant in my yard. I have been seeing monarch butterflies visiting it, and a quick look yesterday revealed some eggs. This morning when I went to water it, I saw there were more than eggs. Several caterpillars. This evening I counted 9. Some of them will undoubtedly find their way to other milkweed plants at school and/or the arboretum.

Western Lynx has breakfast, and babies

I have been keeping an eye on the little western lynx spider guarding her egg sac.
I was able to get her to take a fly, served upon the end of a dried blade of grass.

Then I realized that the baby spiders were hatching right before my eyes. Can you see them emerging from the bottom of the white silk egg sac? One is just barely dangling by a thread.

Here were a few more of them dangling farther down. They were waving in the breeze quite a bit, so it was hard to focus.

In an effort to take a clearer picture, I brought my finger up under the danglers.
Look at that scary little face looking up at me!

I released them right after I took the pictures. Off to seek their fortunes.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Teeming hordes of tiny bugs

Lately, I've been seeing swarms and swarms of these tiny hemipterans at the arboretum. I thought they were ants at first, but they're actually smaller than ants, and they're clearly true bugs. I'm pretty sure they're seed bugs, (Xyonysius californicus). Those round dead-leafy looking things are actually tiny weed seeds, and I'm wondering if the bugs eat them. You can click on the picture to enlarge it. Then maybe you can see the bugs better.

Here are some of them right on the top of a big barrel cactus.

This is as close as I could zoom and crop.

Porth moth (that's PORCH moth!!)

Thorry about my typo.

Just in case

I really like this shot of a katydid that I took last week. If I re-do my blog page, I want to put it in the header. But knowing me, I may also procrastinate, or pass on it altogether. Blogger has some cool-looking new template design features, but I just don't know if I want to mess with all that. So here's the katydid, all nice and glowy in the evening sun. Enjoy.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pink and Green Lynx

Ain't she pretty?

Iris oratoria for 2010

I'm finally seeing these mantids at the arboretum. As nymphs, they are easy to distinguish from their Stagmomantis cousins by their more slender bodies, abdomens that don't curl upwards, and the thin stripes that run the length of their bodies. They also have a distinctive spot on the underbelly.

Even though this photo is blurry, you can still see the stripes running down this hatchling's back. I will try to go back to the arboretum to take better pictures soon.

You can see more I. oratoria photos here. And compare the out of focus nymph above with his Stagmomantis cousins at the same age here.

These were the mantids that I adored and played with throughout my childhood, so I will always have a special fondness for them.

Monday, July 05, 2010

In my parents' back yard

Yesterday we went to my parents' house. While Jerry was busy working on my dad's computer, I busied myself looking for bugs in the back yard, and I was pleasantly surprised by how many I found. The whole time I lived there as a kid, there was a serious dearth of interesting bugs (although as a teenager, I don't think I focused on bugs a whole lot anyway...)

This mud dauber wasp, Sceliphron caementarium, was resting on a fake plant. There were a couple other wasps and yellow-jackety looking things, but none that would pose as nicely as this one.

This is a no big deal blue green sharpshooter, but it's a nice clear picture. I keep trying to improve upon previous photos, and these little buggers are notoriously hard to take pictures of, because they're tiny, and when they see you looking at them, they hide on the other side of the leaf.

Here's another little hopper, Sophonia orientalis, a non-native species from Taiwan. I think they look like tiny surfboards. And those black "eyes" are actually spots on the rear of the wings.

I saw not one, but two katydid species. This is a scudder's katydid nymph.

I also found a freshly moulted P. nana. I never saw these in my yard when I was a kid. Of course, that was a million years ago.

There were several spiders, including some cute little jumping spiders, but not one of them would cooperate in having their pictures taken.

These curly little cycad leaves didn't mind, though.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The closer you get...

...the worse it looks for the caterpillar I've been trying to save. After one night of eating, and a single piece of frass, he has pretty much stopped moving again. He no longer looks shrivelled, but his color has been darkening, and there are some worrisome black spots which I think are the exit holes made by the parasitic wasps. Could they be infected? Is the black part necrotic tissue? Could there be another brood of wasp larvae still inside?

(For my non-bug-expert friends, those spiracles are supposed to be there. That's how caterpillars breathe.)

Anyway, I will be visiting my parents today, and it's for the best that I just let nature take its course while I'm out.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Zale update: He's eating!!

This time when I gave him the honey, he went from that right to eating the leaf! And moments later, he pooped! This can only be good news. His digestive tract is functioning from one end to the other! There may be hope for the little guy yet!

The zale is still alive

I thought for sure that my zale caterpillar would die shortly after the parasites left his* body two days ago. But he's still alive. Not doing well, but still alive. Most of the time he is resting, looking rather shrivelled, which can be expected, considering the circumstances. And he hasn't been eating, which is bad because that is a caterpillar's prime directive. A couple of times a day, I have been checking on him, giving him a little spritz of water or stroking him gently with a teeny tiny paintbrush to see if he flinches. (He did.)

Last night before I went to bed, I stroked him with the paintbrush and I didn't see him move. I figured he was dead, or almost dead. But this morning, I was surprised to find him flinching strongly again. He still hadn't eaten, and I was in doubt if he had taken in any of the water I had been spraying on him, but I figured I would continue to keep him and observe him. He's either going to rest and recover or starve to death, but this morning I collected some fresh oak leaves just in case.

On my way home from the neighbors with the oak tree, I found a bumblebee, almost dead. I brought it home and tried to feed it a drop of honey from my kitchen, but it was too far gone, poor thing. Then I had a wacky idea. Would the ailing zale caterpillar take some honey?

This is a wacky idea with some logic behind it, and some precedence. I have fed honey to sick mantids several times with good results. My logic is that honey is a simple sugar produced by insects and meant to be eaten by insects. (OK, not mantids or caterpillars, but I'm just saying...) It's easy to digest, provides energy, and in the case of my mantids, has kept them going until they were strong enough to eat their normal food. So I gave the zale a tiny droplet of honey on the end of a toothpick.

He slurped it up! He looked around for more. I set him on a fresh oak sprig I had just collected and put a few tiny dabs of honey along the edge of one leaf. More eager slurpage! I refreshed the tiny dabs as the zale licked them up. I was hoping he would spontaneously progress from eating the honey to eating the tender green oak leaf, but when the honey was gone, he stopped moving.

I'm letting him rest for now. I don't want to overload him with too much honey at one time. I have no way of knowing how much his digestive system was damaged by the parasites. Or if the honey itself is harmful to him. But I'll give him some more in a couple of hours, and every so often, as long as he seems interested.

* I default to the male pronoun until gender can be confirmed.
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