Backyard Orchard News
Ever been to the Burning Man Festival and checked out the art cars?
No, and no.
But last Sunday at the Berkeley Marina, we saw an art car that looked as if it could have been at the Burning Man.
It was the wheel deal.
And a car that an entomologist could love.
Assorted insects, including a stylistic blue ant, decorated the car. Excitedly different. Curiously surreal. Marvelously eccentric.
Wikipedia defines an art car as "a vehicle that has its appearance modified as an art of personal artistic expression." The owners are sometimes called "Cartists."
We've seen a yellow Volkwagen painted to resemble a bumble bee. We've seen the Oscar Meyer Wienie Wagon cruising down the street. Singer Janis Joplin ("Oh, Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?") drove a psychedelically painted Porsche. John Lennon of the Beatles wheeled around in a paisley Rolls Royce. (Perhaps it should have been a Volkswagen Beetle?)
The art car parked at the Berkeley marina, however, looked like a buffet of art, someone's leftovers turned into a heaping plate of static and dynamic creativity that begged attention. Put a fork in it and it's done.
We don't know where it had been or where it was going. Or, maybe it wasn't going anywhere any time soon.
That blue ant, though, made us think the cartist is an entomologist. Specifically, a mymecologist.
An stylized ant on the art car. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Time will tell. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Art car holds many treasures. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The end. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Once you've seen a leaffooted bug (genus Leptoglossus), you'll never forget it.
If you look closely, you'll see a leaflike structure on each hind leg.
It's especially noticeable when the bug is on a brightly colored tomato or pomegranate.
Lately we've been seeing a lot of leaffooted bugs on our tomatoes. They're Leptoglossus phyllopus, as identified by senior museum scientist Steve Heydon of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis. The bugs emerge in the early morning for a few hours and then, moving quite sluggishly, disappear among the leaves, only to make their presence known late in the evening and early the next morning.
They're pests of many fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and ornamentals, but they're so unusual looking that they draw the attention of photographers and other curious folks. It's camouflage at its best--except when they're on ripe red tomatoes and pomegranates. Then it's as if they're wearing neon.
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) Program has this to say about leaffooted bugs on almonds:
"The leaffooted bug is an infrequent pest in almonds that gets its name from the small, leaflike enlargements found on the hind legs of the large nymphs and adults. Adult bugs are about 1 inch long and have a narrow brown body with a yellow or white zigzag line across its flattened back. Adult females lay eggs in strands of usually 10 to 15 eggs that are often found on the sides of nuts in almonds. Eggs hatch into small nymphs that resemble newly hatched assassin bugs."
Also read what UC IPM has to say about leaffooted bugs on pomegranates and several species: Leptoglossus clypealis, L. occidentalis, and L. zonatus.
A leaffooted bug on a tomato. This is Leptoglossus phyllopus, as identified by senior museum scientist Steve Heydon of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two's company in this photo of two leaffooted bugs. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Red nymph of leaffooted bug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Nymph of leaffooted bug checks out it surroundings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
They're so tiny and inconspicuous that they're easy to miss. They're about an inch long and so slender that they look like flying needles.
Like its cousin, the dragonfly, the damselfly (suborder Zygoptera) is a predator that catches and eats flying insects. Flies, knats and mosquitoes are often on their menu.
Damselflies frequent the area near our fish pond and we see them glide in and out of our lavender patch, the catmint, oregano and the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia). Sometimes they perch on a stem in the early morning and warm their flight muscles.
When we see them, we always look for bright red mites. Red mites? Think of a a cluster of miniature salmon eggs. Some of these damselflies are so heavily parasitized that you wonder how long they'll survive. Damsel in distress?
We've never seen a damselfly actually catch a flying insect, but we did find one last weekend that was quite interested in an ant scurrying down a lavender stem. The damselfly backed up and appeared to be targeting it.
The ant, however, escaped.
Damselfly on a leaf in the late afternoon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A cluster of red mites on a damselfly in the early morning. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Indeed, some bees seem to possess Superman's extraordinary power of "faster than a speeding bullet." They're just lacking a blue costume, a red cape and an "S" on their thorax.
The butterfly doing the fluttering in our garden is the Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, a showy reddish-orange Lepitopderan that lays its eggs on our passionflower vine (Passiflora).
The bee doing the speeding-bullet routine is the male longhorned digger bee, Melissodes agilis. They are so territorial that they claim ALL members of the sunflower family in our garden: the blanket flowers (Gallardia), the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).
They relentlessly patrol the garden and dive-bomb assorted bumble bees, carpenter bees, honey bees, sweat bees, wasps, syrphid flies, butterflies and even stray leaves that land on "their" flowers. (Their eyesight is not as good as Superman's.)
Why? They're trying to save the pollen and nectar resources for the Melissodes agilis females. And trying to entice and engage the girls.
Last Sunday we watched a Gulf Frit touch down on the Tithonia. Just as it was gathering some nectar, a speeding bullet approached.
If it were a horse, it would have been Secretariat.
If it were a track star, it would have been "Lightning Bolt" Usian St. Leo Bolt.
If it were a car, it would have been a Hennessey Venom GT.
If it were a plane, it would have been a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
Swoosh! As the longhorned digger bee rifled by, the startled Gulf Frit shot straight up. Straight up.
Frankly, the Gulf Frit could have "leaped a tall building in a single bound."
A Gulf Fritillary sips nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), unaware of what will soon occur. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A speeding bullet, a male longhorned digger bee, targets the unsuspecting Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Startled by the digger bee, the Gulf Fritillary shoots straight up. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's back to normal. The Gulf Fritillary finds another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
But how can you sleep when you sense a predator in your midst?
Last night, as usual, was Boys' Night Out in our lavender patch. The male longhorned digger bees, Melissodes agilis (as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis), were sleeping on a lavender stem, as the females nested underground.
The males cluster or "roost" or "camp out" on the stems from around 6 at night until 7 in the morning, and it's a sight to see. A veritable bedroom community. Our lavender patch is a living room during the day and a bedroom at night.
Curiously enough, the males are very territorial in daylight hours as they compete for the females. We've seen them dive-bomb carpenter bees, bumble bees, sweat bees, butterflies, dragonflies and the males of their own species.
But even though they battle fiercely during the day, they sleep together peacefully at night.
Lately the roosting males seem to be vanishing. We're accustomed to seeing 12 to 15 on a stem. It's dwindled down to eight or nine. Where did they go? Did they find another place? A better "bed?" More room at the inn?
So at 6:30 a.m. today, we parted the lavender stems to observe the boys. Not as many as yesterday.
Wait, what's that? Could it be? It was. A praying mantis!
And the praying mantis, looking quite emaciated, was edging toward the sleeping boys.
Easy pickings. Too easy. Would it grab one of them?
It did not.
It climbed down the lavender stem, peered at the sleeping boys--hmm, breakfast?--and then moved to another lavender stem.
Close call? Maybe. Maybe not. We've heard that praying mantids prefer moving prey and these prey weren't moving.
A praying mantis climbs down a lavender stem to get a closer look at the sleeping boy bees, longhorned digger bees, Melissodes agilis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis peers at what could be prey but they're sleeping. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis "assumes the position" on another lavender stem as it waits for live prey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Whew! That was close. A sleepy male longhorned digger bee gets ready to fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)