Backyard Orchard News
Brian Turner, outreach coordinator at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis campus, is used to walking around with a walking stick.
Not just any walking stick. The Giant New Guinea Walking Stick and the Vietnamese Walking Stick.
Although the Bohart Museum houses more than seven million insect specimens, some are quite alive, thank you. They include the walking sticks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, giant cave cockroaches, black widow spiders, and the rose hair tarantulas.
All are taking a brief "vacation" from the Bohart and are now housed in the floriculture building at the 134th annual Dixon May Fair, being held May 7-10.
When Turner delivered them to the fair Wednesday afternoon, the insects drew excitement from exhibitors setting up floral displays. They marveled at the size of the spiny Giant New Guinea Walking Stick (Eurycantha calcarate), which can reach 6 inches in length.
The male has large spikes on its back femurs. The female has what looks like a large stinger, but it really is an ovipositer (egg-laying structure).
These insects dine on bramble, rose and guava.
They do not dine on fairgoers.
"Insects are the most successful animals that have ever existed on Earth and have been around for just over 400 million years," writes George Gavin in Insects, an American Nature Guide published by Smithmark Publishers, N.Y.
"Of the nearly one and a half million described species of all animals, just over 930,000 of them are insects," Gavin points out. "Thousands of new insect species are described every year and recent estimates from work in the world's diminishing rainforests indicate that there are maybe several million undescribed species."
Yes, insects are nearly everywhere--even at California's oldest fair. When the 134th annual Dixon May Fair opens May 7, continuing through May 10, you'll see a honey bee observation hive--with the queen bee, workers and drones--inside the floriculture building. Also in the floriculture building: Madagascar hissing cockroaches, Vietnamese walking sticks and other arthropods.
Honey bee specialists from the UC Davis Department of Entomology and insect experts from the Bohart Museum of Entomology will be there at various times to answer questions.
Elsewhere on the fairgrounds, you'll see insect photography and insect motifs on quilts, aprons, birdbaths, flower pots and other items. Interior Living Showcase superintendent Debee Lamont (who works year-around as gifts and records management specialist in University Relations, UC Davis) says insect images adorn numerous quilts at the fair. Insects include honey bees, butterflies and dragonflies.
Sorry, no quilts with Madagascar hissing cockroaches or Vietnamese walking sticks.
Dragonfly and Cat
The rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora) attracts its share of insects.
This morning the brilliant magenta blossoms drew honey bees, carpenter bees and hover flies.
As a hover fly (aka syrphid fly or flower fly) gathered nectar, a spider crawled up a leaf of the succulent, presumably to check out the best place to weave a web.
The rock purslane is drought-tolerant and a good plant for xeroscaping.
And perfect for attracting pollinators--and an occasional spider.
It looks like a giant mosquito.
But it isn't.
It's a crane fly (family Tipulidae), also known as a "mosquito hawk."
It's a slender, long-legged insect that cats like to target. Our cat, Xena the Warrior Princess, loves to bat them out of the air--and then look around for more.
Most crane flies "feed on decaying organic matter, but some are predaceous or feed on living plants such as mosses," according to entomologists Jerry Powell and Charles Hogue in their guidebook, California Insects.
Don't worry. This gangly mosquito-like insect won't feed on you. You're safe.
Ever seen bees at a watering hole?
Bees not only bring back nectar, pollen and propolis to the hive, but also water.
"Water dilutes the concentrated food, maintains humidity in the brood nest, and it's used to air-condition the hive, like an evaporative cooler," said Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, who's entering his 33rd year as a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty.
Beekeepers use a variety of watering devices to make sure their colonies have a steady supply of water. For example, some beekeepers slant a wooden board under the slow drip of an outdoor faucet. Others offer a shallow pan of water or a birdbath.
What's important is this: Bees prefer to stand where it's dry when they're taking a drink.
At the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, a regularly watered plant provides a favorite source of water. The distinct odor of the water makes it easier for bees to find or return to the source.
The Laidlaw facility's "watering hole" is an example of a honey bee watering device that beekeepers can use "to prevent bees from becoming a nuisance, or a perceived nuisance, to neighbors," Mussen said. "If beekeepers don't provide a water source, the bees may head over to a neighbor's dog bowl, sprinklers, birdbath or hanging damp laundry."
So, what do you do about those pesky mosquitoes that lay their eggs in standing water? Buy floating mosquito tablets that break up in the water. "That strain of bacteriuum will not harm the honey bees," Mussen said.