Sunday, October 24, 2010


I found this fly crawling on my patio yesterday. I thought at first it might be a drone bee, but the face looked too fly-ish. It didn't seem to be able to fly, but I couldn't get it to stop running around, so I picked it up and took pictures of it on my hand, where it couldn't go too far.

I have identified it as a drone fly, Drone fly, Eristalis tenax, an excellent bee mimic, wouldn't you say? This one is a female, I found out. You can tell by her eyes, which are rather far apart compared to the male, whose eyes are bigger and actually touch in the middle at the top of his head.

It looks like her wings are just a bit askew. Maybe that has something to do with why she can't fly.

The coloring and fuzziness look very much like a honeybee. But bees have longer antennas than this. They also have 4 wings, where a fly has just 2, and this fly has no "pollen baskets" on the back legs to carry home pollen. They can still transfer pollen as they pass from flower to flower, they just don't actively collect it.

I put her on my tomato plant, where she continued to crawl all over the place, but I was able to get a good shot of her face. You can see how fly-ish it looks.

And a big thank you to Candy, who explained to me how to post bigger pictures, like she does on her blog.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Geron bee-fly

geron fly
Just for the colors :)

All that's left is hope for the next generation.

The last time I checked on them, last night, they were still mating. This morning, the male was gone. Only a bit of wing and part of a leg were left in the bottom of the cage.

This might seem like a bad end for the two "husbands", but the alternative would have been for them to decline and die anyway in the weeks to come. Instead both males gave not only their DNA, but their very flesh and blood, which, as it nourishes the now very fat female mantis, will hopefully result in a nice healthy egg case.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Finally, he gets what he's been waiting for.

After literally hanging on for the better part of two days, #2 has made his move.

Giant swallowtail caterpillar

After a slow start, my swallowtail caterpillar has been growing! He is almost too big to look like a bird poop any more.

He is kind of ugly and yet beautiful at the same time. I like the mottled, marbled coloring, and the tiny circles and flecks of purple on his skin. This is the first time I have observed this kind of caterpillar as it grows.

The mantids this morning

I continued to check on the mating mantids throughout the day yesterday, and by the time I went to bed, they still all looked to be in the same position as they had been all day. All
of them.

First thing this morning, when I checked them, the ½ male, my formerly one-eyed little friend was gone. Nothing remained but a few bits of wing on the cage floor. The other male is still intact. Still clinging to the female, but not actually mating.

This new guy seems to be content in his bachelorhood. I found him on my porch yesterday.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Just a fly...

... in a beautiful setting, on a bed of shimmering droplets from yesterday's drizzle.
But it's still just an icky fly.

Variegated Meadowhawk

Sympetrum corruptum male
I don't often get good photos of dragonflies. And, somehow, even though they're often very big and awesome-looking, I haven't really gotten into them so much. But I decided to look this little guy up to identify him. (and he is a guy. The females are more grayish.)

Porch spider

Ménage à 2½

Last week, I found another big green female S. limbata. I was able to release the one I was keeping previously, and decided to keep this new one to bring for display at my final bug safari at the arboretum.

Yesterday I noticed that she had attracted the attention of a male who was perched on the outside of her cage. I put him in there with her. I also put in some flies to keep her occupied, and as an afterthought, I also put my one-eyed male in there, with the reasoning that one of them might get lucky, and he deserved a chance after being injured and then living in captivity for a number of weeks. His natural lifespan was almost over anyway, and wouldn't it be better to die while mating than to wither away with the coming winter?

(OK, Julie. Brace yourself.)

Here's what I woke up to this morning:

Look carefully, and you'll see that it is a headless male that is doing the actual mating. And, it is the one-eyed male. Only now he's no-eyed. No-headed. No arms, either.

The other one is apparently waiting his turn. Whether that will include losing his head as well remains to be seen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bird Poop Caterpillar

This is the caterpillar of the giant swallowtail butterfly. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to see a butterfly laying an egg on the Australian willow tree at the arboretum. I saved the leaf, and have been rearing the caterpillar. It was eating only sparingly from the leaves of the tree that its mother had chosen. It seemed to be taking forever to grow. I decided to try giving it the tender leaves of an orange tree, and it likes that much better.

These caterpillars hide in plain sight by mimicking bird droppings.

A new crop of caterpillars, an early harvest

This is the same little milkweed plant that had all the monarch caterpillars on it this past summer. After the caterpillars grew up, I trimmed the plant back. The new growth that followed was taken over by mites. I sprayed with insecticidal soap, which worked a little, but not too well. But the mites were soon replaced by the yellow aphids. I left well-enough alone, and today, I realized that my little milkweed plant was now covered with baby monarch caterpillars once again. And waaaay to many for such a small plant.

I thought some of them looked extra yellow-y, perhaps from eating the flowers and/or pollen.

Aww, look at the cute little stubby antennas on this one. ♥

Anyway, I knew there were waaay too many caterpillars for one little plant to support, so I picked off as many as I could find, and took them to the arboretum, where I spread them among the many available milkweed plants. There are 32 visible in this photo, but after I returned from releasing them, I found 5 more still on the plant that I had missed. I will leave them there. But can you imagine over 3 dozen caterpillars on a single milkweed plant!

Diabolical Ironclad Beetles

In mid-summer, in one corner of the park by my house, the Diabolical Ironclad beetles, Phloeodes diabolicus, would emerge from beneath rocks and low-lying plants at dusk to forage for tasty decomposing plant material. One night I picked up several and carried them home in my pocket. They have been living in a container, feeding on rolled oats and well-aged vegetable scraps ever since. As their name implies, they have incredibly tough shells. I read that collectors need to pre-drill holes through them in order to pin the specimens. (already humanely killed, of course)

And if having an "ironclad" shell isn't enough to protect them, they also have the defense of playing dead. Every time I take them out to look at them, this is how they behave for the first few minutes.

I think they're kinda cute, though. They are gentle creatures.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

This doesn't happen every day.

OK, this part happens every day: I put on my shoes in the morning, tie the laces, start to step out and seize the day.

But wait.

I feel something in my shoe. A pebble, a piece of dirt from somewhere, I don't know. But it's annoying, and I cant ignore it. Dang. Now I have sit down and take off my shoe and shake out the offending particle.

Tap tap. Shake shake. I see a little brown thing fall on the floor. I am satisfied that I have fixed the problem, but curious what was in there, so I pick it up. My first impression is that it is indeed a granule of dirt. Then for one uneasy moment, I suspect it might be a mouse dropping, because it's just about that size and shape.

Until the legs unfold.

He he! A weevil was in my shoe!
I released him in the yard, apparently unharmed.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Tightly wound

This caterpillar was on the hemizonia. I don't know how much variation there is in the Darker Spotted Straw moth larvae, or if this is another related species. I wasn't prepared to take this one home to rear it out, but I may look for another one like this and do it later.

Also, as you can see, I was holding this caterpillar in my hand when I took the picture. I really don't like seeing my pink, puffy yet wrinkly fingers in my bug photos. So this time, I tried desaturating most of the pink. I think it looks...interesting.

One plant, three grasshoppers

A purple nightshade plant was sporting a nice assortment of gray bird grasshopper nymphs.

Male pepsid wasp

This wasp seemed to be kind of old and tired. Look how tattered his wings are.
On this chilly, cloudy day, he was moving slowly, and I was able to get really close to him. Unfortunately, without the sun, the blue iridescence of his body wasn't visible.

When he got tired of having me in his face, he flew to the ground and just walked around a while. I'd never seen one on the ground. They do make burrows in the ground, but I think this old fella just didn't have the energy to fly around much.

Queen(s) of the desert

Yesterday, Chris, the plant curator at the arboretum, alerted me to the presence of some queen caterpillars in the Mojave Desert collection. I elected not to venture out in the nearly constant drizzle yesterday, but this morning, under merely threatening skies, I went to see them.

This is the plant they were on. A nearly leafless desert milkweed called Rush Milkweed. These gangly, stemmy plants don't look like they'd be very inviting to many insects, but I have found the opposite to be true. All summer, I have seen wasps, aphids, ladybugs, syrphid flies, milkweed bugs, and scale insects. Oh, and the occasional monarch caterpillar, because it is a milkweed after all, and now the queens, because they eat milkweed also. The caterpillars eat the flowers, young pods, stems, and the few skinny leaves that these plants make.

Since they are in the same family as the monarch, the queen caterpillars look similar, but there is a difference in their striping, and most notably, they have an extra pair of antennae about one-third the way down their back.

I have seen the queen butterflies only seldom at the arboretum. The only picture I have is this blurry one from 2003, but it's enough to see the similarities and differences between this and the monarch

Heliothis subflexa

I met this elegant owlet moth on a plant on my front porch the other day. I was able to identify it as Heliothis subflexa.

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