Saturday, May 28, 2011
This is the milkweed patch in the back garden in full flush, about one month ago and sure to be a magnet for a female Oncopeltus fasciatus looking for a place to lay eggs.
Sure enough, this aggregation of sub-adult large milkweed bugs is the result of that egg laying on the lush and edible (for a milkweed bug) plants. These bugs tend to hang out in dense groups, although the occasional individual will move away from the group.
The individuals in this group are one molt away from adulthood.
Saturday, May 07, 2011
So we got around to splitting the wood, a pile of various types of logs we've been collecting for a few years. It's a fair piece of work but gives the householder such a warm feeling once that wood is all split, sized and stacked to cure in the summer sun. Also, the beauty of the wood as each smaller log or huge stump is split to reveal its unique coloration, texture and odor makes the job a joy. Not to mention the satisfying crack as a log splits apart under the brute force of the hydraulic splitter. You didn't think we used an axe, did you?
Then I got a special treat when this grub tumbled out of a split white alder log.
This is Dicerca hornii, a metallic wood boring beetle that specializes in alder, prunus and other deciduous trees. In the wood-destroying organisms trade it is referred to somewhat generically as a flathead borer.
You can see the flattened oval shape of the grub's tunnel in the alder log from whence it came.
There are several tunnel holes that were exposed by the split in this log, maybe from other grubs still hidden inside the wood or maybe this grubs extensive tunnel. D. hornii female beetles lay eggs on failing trees or standing dead trees, and the grubs feed on the wood creating tunnels through the wood as they grow.
I think it takes about a year for the grubs to mature into the colorful adults also known as jewel beetles. These photos are from a few years ago in December when I saw my first jewel beetle.
When the beetle takes flight, the lifted elytra reveal an emerald green abdomen as an extra treat for the observers of this interesting species.
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Clearing out the diptera file from mid-spring, here are some flies I've seen lately to awhile ago:
Top of post is a crane fly male, maybe European crane fly, Tipula paludosa or another in that genus, visiting the dried up holiday wreath hanging on the back fence.
Green bottle fly, Lucilia sericata, perched on a milkweed leaf. This is the fly that Jack Hodges of Bones is always mentioning as he walks into the room. The female fly lays her eggs on dead animals; the maggots develop in predictable ways and so forensic entomologists use them to determine time of death.
A Mediterranean fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata stopped on a nearby shrub briefly one morning; it's the only one I have ever seen. Most likely this is a sterile male released by the people that breed sterile fruit flies at the state of California. The sterile males are marked with red between the eyes . . . if you can get close enough or a sharp enough photo to see it. Otherwise, a female fly would have a visible ovipositor . . . again I failed to notice or get a photo showing that. A female C. capitata would indicate a med fly infestation . . . a bad thing.
This muscid fly spent its mornings hanging out on the cactus spines. Not sure why.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
Mr. Cardui has developed an eye for the smaller, finer things in life over the years. The other day he brought my attention to a pair of mating southern alligator lizards (Elgaria multicarinata) on top of the block wall between us and the guy next door.
The first thing you notice is the tails entwined. Then I went up the ladder and closer for a side view and almost swooned when I saw they were holding hands. I hate to assign human values to animal behaviors, but is that cute or what?
Then I repositioned the ladder for a shot at the pair's other side. Here you see the other side alright, the one in which the male grasps the female's head in his jaw. The two maintained this position until nightfall and beyond possibly . . . I stopped watching and went inside to do human things. The lizards were gone next morning.
Tail twining, hand holding, head biting. Lizard love is in the air or at least on the wall.
Sunday, May 01, 2011
Tobacco budworms (Heliothis virescens) are good at hiding among pelargonium flowers and buds, both by taking on the color of the flowers, flower stems or leaves and by mimicking the shapes found in the flower clusters. The fact they like to hang out deep within these big clumps of flowers doesn't hurt to keep them hidden to the casual eye at least when they are small little buggers.
But as they grow they must eat more. And as they eat they must poop; and the poop obeying the law of gravity, filters down and out of hiding. I found lovely green and rose colored H. virescens poop on the pot edge and sprinkled on a leaf, alerting me to the growing presence of the caterpillars I knew must be there.
Taxonomy note: When I first posted on this species in 2007, it was named Helicoverpa virescens, but has been assigned to a new genus heliothis. Helicoverpa zea, corn earworm, was an alternate id based on the reasoning stated here. But on reconsidering I believe these to be H. virescens the polyphagous tobacco or geranium budworm.
According to Featured Creatures at the U of Florida this caterpillar eats a lot of stuff, "attacking such crops as alfalfa, clover, cotton, flax, soybean, and tobacco. However, it sometimes attacks such vegetables as cabbage, cantaloupe, lettuce, pea, pepper, pigeon pea, squash, and tomato, especially when cotton or other favored crops are abundant. Tobacco budworm is a common pest of geranium and other flower crops such as ageratum, bird of paradise, chrysanthemum, gardenia, geranium, petunia, mallow, marigold, petunia, snapdragon, strawflower, verbena, and zinnia." Whew. I always find it among the pelargoniums in April and May, especially when the poop blows its cover.
By the way, tobacco budworm is also cannibalistic; as the caterpillars grow they sometimes attack and feed on each other. Something more interesting than poop to keep an eye out for.