Saturday, August 28, 2010

Waiting for the big reveal

I guess I should say the small reveal, because the pupa seems to be about one-quarter the size of the full-sized desert caterpillar I collected recently.

Summer's end

Summer is over, if not by the calendar, then at least by the starting of school. The weather has been weird, though not terrible, but I think it has had an effect on the plants as well as the bugs here in Southern California. I ended up taking too little advantage of the arboretum's later summer hours, but I tried to make up for it this week. There is nothing quite like seeing the flowers and plants glowing in the evening sun.

The figs seemed slower to ripen this summer, and they aren't as sweet as usual. And it took longer for the beetles to find them, but they seem to be making up for lost time.

An anise swallowtail caterpillar, blending rather well into a blooming fennel plant.

A male green lynx. You can tell it's a male by the pedipalps. Although both sexes have pedipalps, the males have the "boxing gloves" on the ends, and use them to transfer their sperm during the mating process.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Icosium tomentosum

My mystery beetle from the other night has been identified.
You can follow the comments on BugGuide here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Artichoke fly

Recently, I was strolling through the vegetable garden at the elementary school. It has been more or less neglected all summer. All over the massive artichokes, I noticed lots of these cute little flies.

These are Terellia fuscicornis. Artichoke flies, of Mediterranean origin. They are not really a pest of commercially grown artichokes, because the fly only wants to put its maggots into the flower after it has bloomed, and artichokes are harvested for market well before that stage. They might actually be helpful in controlling invasive artichoke thistle, since it's in the same family.

Some of them had long tails, which I'm guessing are ovipositors.

I love their colorful "shades"!

Random offerings

Recent sightings at the arboretum. Nothing much to say about them. I just liked them.

A little plant bug.

An inchworm laying crosswise on a flower. (I swear, we once had a couch with the same pattern as this caterpillar, only in earth tones.)

Scudder katydid, sub-adult female.

Desert caterpillars

There is a good crop of caterpillars in this patch of sticky, stinky shrubby desert stuff* at the arboretum. I think they might be some kind of earworm, but I'm not sure.

Maybe these are what the Ammophilia wasps are after. I have taken a couple home to try to raise them and see what they turn into.
*Update: the plant has been identified as Hemizonia (tarweed). Thank you, Chris.
Also, you can see the lovely moth it turned into here.

Plenty of wasps on a desert milkweed.

In the long overdue heat of summer, the desert milkweed plants at the arboretum are in bloom and attracting lots of bugs. Just this morning, I took pictures of 3 different wasps on a single plant. (actually, there was a 4th, bug I didn't get a picture of it.)

Pepsis species. Tarantula wasp. It's a female. You can tell by her curly antennae.

They like to nectar on milkweed. They catch tarantulas to feed to their young. We haven't noticed any tarantulas at the arboretum, but I can always hope!

On the same plant, a large Polistes wasp.

Then, on the same plant (!) but also moving among adjacent plants, was this wasp that I identified as Ammophilia. These wasps catch and paralyze caterpillars, put them in a burrow under the sand, and lay an egg on them. The baby wasp hatches with a ready food supply.
I have also been finding lots of caterpillars in that area of the arboretum, so maybe that's what the wasps are after.

Longhorn beetle for ID

Last night, we kept the arboretum open till 9PM, for "Creatures of the Night". There was supposed to be a lady giving a presentation with several live nocturnal animals, but she had car trouble and didn't show up until right before we closed. But we still had a bunch of people show up, so we handed out flashlights, gave them a list of possible things to look out for and just let 'em go! From what I could tell, they seemed to have a good time.

I set up my pitiful little black light and my sheet, and was relieved to see a nice variety of little beetles and bugs came to visit when it got all the way dark. The kids really enjoyed this, and at some point, we started putting a few things in a jar so they could pass it around and look at what they had picked off the sheet. There was one really cool looking long-horned beetle that I wanted to save, so at the end of the evening, I brought the jar home.

This is the beetle.

He was maybe a tad under 1 inch long, not counting the antennae. I didn't see his kind listed in my Insects of the Los Angeles Basin book, or on Peter Bryant's site. I will submit him to BugGuide.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The 4 legged butterfly

This morning, I knew that this butterfly would be emerging soon. I just didn't realize how soon. I had things to do, and didn't want to sit for an hour or however long it would take, and wait and watch the transparent chrysalis in my back yard. I gave it a good long stare, to see if it was wiggling or anything. It wasn't. I decided to come back and check it every half hour or so.

The next time I went out there, I was already too late. The butterfly was still there, down in the ivy at the base of the fence. I picked it up and let it rest on the outside of a small screened container.

I noticed that this butterfly had only 4 legs. Insects are supposed to have six legs. It didn't appear to have been pecked at by birds, or eaten by ants. The legs were just missing.

Or were they?

I looked at other pictures of Monarch Butterfllies. They all had only 4 legs. I can't believe I've never noticed this before! So I looked it up, and it turns out that they actually do have six legs, but the "missing" pair is small, tucked up in front, and you don't really see them. And that's not all. All butterflies in the Nymphalidae family, also called Brush-footed butterflies, have 2 undersized front legs.

It was hard to get a good picture of the 2 small legs, especially since they're black and so is the body. But I have the arrows pointing to them.

I looked back at some other butterfly pictures I've taken, and there's a good shot of the front legs in the first picture of this post about a Buckeye butterfly.
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