Friday, June 24, 2011
Here I am at the Signature Room, a schwanky restaurant on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building (signature room...get it?) having dinner with my mom sister and daughter.
And the most memorable part of the event? Aside from the prodigious size of the steaks, the overdose of cheesy potatoes, the colorful martini, and the view (that's Chicago in the foreground, then Lake Michigan, and in the distance Indiana for heaven's sake) a group of spiders living outside the windows. According to the waiter they are always there . . . it's where they live. As we watched a few other random buggies happened by on the glass. Prey.
2/29/12: Hello visitors from Secrets of Chicago! and thanks for the notice. I was born in the city, moved west while a child. My recent (last summer) visit was for my mom's (also born and raised) 85th birthday. The spiders were frosting on the cake of a very nice visit.
By the way, after dinner at the Signature Room, we headed for the Skydeck. Somewhere I have a great photo of mom and her walker suspended over the city.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
The day of solstice 2011 was the veil between the gloom that preceded it and the honest summer heat that followed. Today the sun actually burned off the cloud cover before noon (!) and I observed what was flying around the fennel flowers that had just opened fully and were offering up nectar. A lot of them were wasps.
The first visitor to show up was a paper wasp, Polistes apachus. This is one of the paper nest builders once famous for threatening visitors to my front door. I almost misidentified this one as P. exclamans until I remembered that species is marked by its yellow tipped antennae. This one's antennae do not have noticeably light tips. Paper wasps feed on nectar, but hunt among the plants for caterpillars to feed their growing larvae back in the paper nest cells. I do have a pet paper wasp nest this year but it's not on the front porch.
Soon a great golden digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) arrived to feed among the flowers. They don't call them great for nothing as this wasp is impressive in its size and robust appearance. They are always "friendly" in that they never threaten me or seem agitated with my presence; not that they smile and say "hey, how's it going" or anything like that. S. ichneumoneus digs her nest in the soil and provisions it with orthopterans (grasshoppers, katydids, crickets). I'm keeping my eye out for the nest location, also for a great golden digger capturing prey.
Black and yellow mud daubers (Sceliphron caementarium) also came by to feed and *ahem* meet. At least I saw a male and female:
male with curled antennae; female's are straight. The two of them came by separately and fed a bit; then one got close to the other, maybe in a mating attempt,
and a bit of a confrontation ensued. Mud daubers build those mud covered nests under your eaves or in your garden shed or garage. Inside the cells are spider prey and wasp eggs and later, wasp larvae.
I don't know what these mating small black wasps (?) are. Obviously not on the fennel but too good to pass up. You can get an idea of the size by knowing that is an agapanthas flower they are on, which by the way was close to the fennel.
Not wasps or even hymenoptera, but also attracted by the fennel flowers were some tachinid flies. This is probably genus Peleteria, based solely on appearance (white markings especially). Sadly, I don't know what type of insect host the maggots of this species develop inside of, but that is the way of tachinid larvae, often growing inside of caterpillar hosts as parasitoids. Parasitoids are creatures that feed on another living thing but unlike parasites, they usually kill and often consume the host. The adult flies feed on nectar; they seem to really like fennel and don't seem to do it any harm.
Last but not least was a honeybee.
All these visitors to and near the fennel plant were observed between 11:30 and 11:46 am today, an hour or so past the actual solstice.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
It was one of the final days of the legendary April-May-June gloom of 2011 and I was strolling past a fennel plant (Foeniculum vulgare) that overreaches the pathway with its vulgarity, when a white/orange/black thing of an unusual shape and size caught my eye. Looking closer I saw it was a bit of the trailing edge of a monarch butterfly wing. Yay, great find! I thought as my normally down-glancing eyes luckily decided to move up the fennel plant and so happened to notice another white/orange/black thing that was more interesting:
Oh My Gorsch . . . it was a small caterpillar of the swallowtail persuasion. I thought this because the overall, out of the corner of the eye first impression was strongly bird-dropping-esque bringing to mind the caterpillar of the Giant Swallowtail. Checking my resources later confirms this to be a second instar Anise Swallowtail larva, Papilio zelicaon. The fact it was feeding on fennel, possibly the most utilized larval food plant for this species in this area, of course supports the identification. Very exciting to find this new species breeding in the yard; turns out there were four little ones working on the annihilation of the upper portion of this fennel plant on this particular day.
Also found among the feathery reaches of the fennel were a tiny down feather in a similar color scheme as the wing bit and the caterpillars . . . maybe a towhee feather or maybe that of a house finch. I recently followed a towhee (Pipilo crissalis) as it walked down the sidewalk in front of my house. It was a very odd feeling.
Then there was one green lacewing egg. This one is a bellwether of the coming tide of lacewing eggs that will proliferate on the tips of vegetation as soon as the weather warms up and the prey populations explode.
And there was also a fennel inflorescence just opening up. These graceful flowers open slowly and dramatically in the languid cool sun of summer 2011.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Borage (Borago officinalis) is welcome in my garden not only because it attracts insects like a magnet but the star shaped blue flowers aren't too shabby either.
Occasionally there is a pink flower like this one, maybe these are older sun-faded flowers or ones that haven't been pollinated.
Part of the attraction for insects is the flowers, but also the hairy stems and leaves provide good habitat for a variety of buggies usually. The borage is doing its part putting out lots of blooms and hairiness, but our days are so cool and sunless the insects just haven't revved up into summer mode yet.
Just a few dedicated honeybees were found visiting the borage flowers.
After the flower is pollinated the ovary swells; each one has four spots for seeds although a lot of the seeds fall out before you notice them.
I hear that borage will grow readily from seeds, although mine hasn't yet self-sowed successfully.
Borage is grown commercially for the seed oil; I read that it is a good companion for tomatoes because it deters tomato hornworm. Next year I'll try that instead of deadly nightshade.
The fennel has started blooming, attracting small hordes of syrphid flies despite the persistently gloomy June weather.
This fly is Allograpta obliqua, the common oblique syrphid which is a very common denizen of the small sky over my garden. Here the fly is feeding on nectar but it will also be likely that she (if this is a she) will lay eggs among the fennel flowers. The larval syrphids feed on aphids, and aphids are very common feeding on fresh succulent fennel flowers, stems and leaves; and they also persist on the stems as the fennel matures into senescence. So eggs laid on fennel are likely to have a good source of food for some time to come.
But for now the fennel is fresh and new and aphid free.
We planted up some big pots with veggies in April including tomatoes and what the garden gurus identify as good companions such as onions, mint, nasturtiums, marigold and geranium as well as "other nightshades" (eg tomatoes, peppers, potato, eggplant, and well, nightshade?) I happened to have a one gallon Solanum wallacei, Catalina nightshade, hanging around the yard looking for a home so I popped it into one of the pots. It spills out of the pot with long stems covered in downy leaves and sprays of purple tomato flowers.
I was wondering one day as I watched flies and bees working the flowers: whether pollen transfer from the poisonous nightshade could effect the fruit quality of the tomatoes, as is the case sometimes with cross-pollinated squashes.
The tomato plants are loaded with fruit that is just turning red: we will keep an eye out for signs of poisoning as we enjoy their juicy goodness. Meanwhile the nightshade has set no fruit so far.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
I figured the group of large milkweed bugs must be getting ready to molt into adulthood so I checked on them from time to time. On the afternoon of June 4 I noticed a shed exoskeleton near the group and knew the final stage of their metamorphosis was underway.
Nearby was a bug standing off by itself under a leaf; it's exoskeleton was loose, looking a bit like skin that peels after a sunburn, so I was lucky enough to have happened by just as the process for this one bug was starting. My camera noted the time as 4:27 pm.
In a process that seems motionless but obviously involves moving, the bright orange adult bug squeezes out of its old shell. As the legs become free, the bug stretches them to full length and then rested for a little while.
Here is a wide view, showing the molting bug, another bug's shed, and the group of bugs nearby.
The bug continues to emerge: it reaches up for the leaf with its hind legs for support as the wing tips and the rest of the abdomen pull free.
End of molt was at 4:59, so the process took about 32 minutes to complete.
Here is the newly molted adult
viewed from above
before the colors have darkened.
Nearby was an earlier molted adult with its antennae quivering; possibly sensing another sexually mature individual in close proximity?
The following day, many have molted though many haven't in this mixed aggregation; the rate of maturity among milkweed bugs varies by several days.
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
The bear's breeches (Acanthus molle) are in bloom. It's an interesting perennial that goes dormant in late summer after blooming. The big leaves start coming up from the rootstock in the cooler part of the year, then the spikes of flowers appear as it warms up, growing to five feet and more: taller than me. The unopened flower buds (? bracts? not sure what they're called) are pretty backlit by the morning sun.
A few insects were visiting on this particular day.
In the top photo is Pyrausta volupialis, a pretty little moth that I know nothing much about. The genus' name derives from pyr, for fire which references the red colors, and it is populated by other very pretty moths, many more colorful than this one.
A fly was hanging out on the peculiar shaped flower parts. This looks like a muscid fly of some sort.
I happened to glance down as another fly was grabbed and hauled down the funnel web of a funnel web spider built in the shallow vee of an acanthus leaf.
Acanthus is supposedly pollinated by bees; I'm not sure I've ever seen a bee visiting these flowers, maybe a carpenter bee. Anyway, it doesn't attract swarms of pollinators like some other plants, but does serve as a home or perch for a few random creatures.
Monday, June 06, 2011
We have a lovely and promising bunch of tomato plants this year. One day I noticed this green caterpillar and the hole it had eaten into a succulent tomato leaf. Alas, there are numerous green or greenish caterpillars that will feed on tomatoes, from info found at California Integrated Pest management site and an assist from Bugguide.com:
Heliothis zea; usually known as corn earworm but called tomato fruitworm when it's damaging tomato crops. Not this one; H. zea tunnels into the tomato fruits instead of eating the leaves.
Beet armyworm, Spodoptera exigua feeds on leaves of tomato; however the eggs are laid in a mass, the caterpillars feed as a group, skeletonizing the leaves. So that is not a likely suspect this time.
However, two species called "tomato looper" (again multiple common names to match the crop under attack) are likely to be my tomato worm: Autographa californica (Alfalfa looper) feeds on about 50 different plants especially legumes like alfalfa and clover. Trichoplusia ni (cabbage looper) larvae feed on plants in the cabbage family and "many other garden plants". My caterpillar looks a bit more like the cabbage looper; and in the photo I think you can barely tell there are just two pairs of abdominal prolegs, confirming looper status.
And then there is the tomato hornworm we all know and love (not). This one just hatched and so is very small (about .5 cm long) but of course had the potential to grow to about 3 inches and wreak havoc among the tomatoes along the way. But is this really tomato hornworm (Manduca sexta) or is it M. quinquemaculata (tobacco hornworm)? The two caterpillars can be told apart by the markings (backslashes on tomato, Vs on tobacco). Anyway, here is a photo of an egg of one or the other hornworm.
I'll never know which hornworm that was since Mr. Cardui has rid our tomato crop of caterpillars of all stripes and markings by applying DiPel, a bacterial insecticide that works well on lepidopteran larvae. Sorry, that cute little hornworm was probably already sick when I took the photo. Can't risk holes in the tomatoes now, can we?