Backyard Orchard News
He's a survivor.
His sisters and brothers didn't eat him when he emerged from the egg case. In fact, he probably ate some of his brothers and sisters.
He has managed to elude his predators: bats, birds and spiders.
Yes, our praying mantis is very much alive and quite well, thank you.
It's early morning and the praying mantis is a lean green machine as he climbs a green cactus from his base camp, a flower bed of pink lantana. He's not engaging in mountaineering for the sport of it or for the summit view. He's climbing the cactus to better position himself to find prey: to ambush an unsuspecting butterfly or bee.
He's not concealed but he's perfectly camouflaged. And he's cunning.
He stops, swivels his head 180 degrees--praying mantids can do that, you know--and proceeds to climb to the top of his Mount Everest.
It's a sight you don't see very often. First, because praying mantids usually blend into their environment. Second, how many times have you seen a green praying mantis climb a green cactus? And third, this cactus climber has something in common with the plant: the needlelike "ouch" factor. The cactus is spiny. The praying mantis has spiked forelegs to grasp its prey.
The mantis reaches the summit. He folds his forelegs as if in "prayer." Well, not quite. He looks as if he's begging for his breakfast.
It promises to be a good day, a top-of-the-morning day.
Praying mantis, perfectly camouflaged, stops in the midpoint of his climb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis reaches the summit. In the background is a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis folds his spiked forelegs, as if in prayer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mussen, who served 38 years as California's Extension apiculturist, based at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, has changed the "R" word into a "K" word.
"K" for keynote speaker.
Mussen will deliver the opening keynote address at the 37th annual Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference, scheduled Sept. 17-20 at the University of Montana, Missoula, Mont.
Mussen, a five-time president and co-founder of WAS, will discuss "Changes in Beekeeping Over Three Decades" from 8:45 to 9:45 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 18 in the University Center.
The conference will take place in conjunction with the 2nd International Workshop on Hive and Bee Management, Sept. 17-21 and the Missoula Honey Harvest Festival, Sept. 20.
The WAS conference, themed "The Path of Discovery to the Future," will be conducted by president Jerry Bromenshenk, a professor at the University of Montana and the state director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (DOE EPSCoR).
Sept. 17 is the 2nd International Workshop on Hive and Bee Monitoring, sponsored by WAS and the Bee Culture magazine. Jerry Hayes will discuss Monsanto research and scale hives, and Dick Rogers, Bayer CropScience research and scale hives. Other topics include wide-scale scientific experiments that can be conducted by beekeepers; interpreting hive weight and temperature; and acoustic scanning of bee pests, diseases, pesticides, molecular genetics for queen production.
The Sept. 18 WAS agenda, with the keynote address by Mussen, includes talks on honey bee health in Canada; bees in Northern Ireland; bee health and treatments; critical issues for bees and beekeeping; and bees and bee breeding in New Zealand. One of the speakers is virologist Michelle Flenniken of Montana State University and the former Häagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Davis. She will speak on "Honey Bee Virology and Diseases" from 11:15 to 11:45 a.m.
The Sept. 19 WAS agenda will include a keynote address, “Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees: Neonic Pesticides and the Prospects for Future Life on Planet Earth” by G. Philip Hughes, of the White House Writers' Group. (Already that has people singing "Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees"--Jewel Aken's 1964 hit.) Among the other presentations will be “Working Bees” by Randy Oliver of Scientific Beekeeping; critical issues for bees and beekeepers; adapting bee management to climate change; and honey producers.
The Western Apicultural Society, founded in 1978, is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization for beekeepers throughout western North America. Membership is open worldwide. However, the organization was designed specifically to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming; the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon; and the states of northern Mexico.
There's still time to register for the conference, according to Fran Bach, WAS newsletter editor.
Eric Mussen, who retired this summer as Extension apiculturist, will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, Sept. 18 at the Western Apicultural Society conference at the University of Montana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation issued news today that is both disturbing and hopeful.
Disturbing in that the monarch butterfly population (Danaus plexippus) has declined by more than 90 percent in under 20 years.
Hopeful in that the monarch may receive federal protection through the Endangered Species Act.
The Xerces Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, and monarch scientist Lincoln Brower, have filed a legal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the monarch through the Endangered Species Act. The agency must respond within 30 days as to whether the petition warrants further review.
“Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range,” related Lincoln Brower, preeminent monarch researcher and conservationist, who has been studying the species since 1954.
Tragicallly, the monarchs have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat, including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds that contain their host plant, milkweed. The female monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed and this is the only food their larvae eat.
As Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, told us today: "Might be too little too late but they have to preserve/conserve milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) That's more important than the butterfly itself."
Xerces earlier sounded the alarm on the critical role that milkweeds play in the monarch's life cycle.
Senior scientist Tierra Curry of the Center for Biological Diversity, hammered home this point in the news release: “The 90 percent drop in the monarch's population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio.”
And the loss of habitat is equal in size to the state of Texas.
The news release said that the butterfly's dramatic decline is "being driven by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born. The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, a uniquely potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar's only food. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in midwestern corn and soybean fields."
Science policy analyst Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety was quoted as saying: "The widespread decline of monarchs is driven by the massive spraying of herbicides on genetically engineered crops, which has virtually eliminated monarch habitat in cropland that dominates the Midwest landscape. Doing what is needed to protect monarchs will also benefit pollinators and other valuable insects, and thus safeguard our food supply.”
Monarch butterflies are known for their spectacular multigenerational migration each year from Mexico to Canada and back, the news release said.
"The population has declined from a recorded high of approximately 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 35 million butterflies last winter, the lowest number ever recorded," according to the release. "The overall population shows a steep and statistically significant decline of 90 percent over 20 years. In addition to herbicide use with genetically engineered crops, monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl, and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds. Scientists have predicted that the monarch's entire winter range in Mexico and large parts of its summer range in the states could become unsuitable due to changing temperatures and increased risk of drought, heat waves and severe storms."
Endangered species director Sarina Jepson of the Xerces Society worries--and rightfully so--that the monarch may become extinct, just like the passenger pigeon.
We are, too. We've seen only two--two--of these majestic butterflies fluttering in our family bee garden this year.
Monarch butterfly nectaring on Mexican sunflower, Tithonia, as a territorial male longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, takes aim. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch butterfly heading toward a butterfly bush. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is milkweed, the monarch's host plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
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Are you on a winning streak? Or a losing streak? Or somewhere in between?
The Gray Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus) is always on a streak--a gray streak.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, writes about the Gray Hairstreak on his website, Art's Butterfly World. It's one of the many butterflies in the Central Valley that he's monitored over the past four decades.
It's most common in weedy and disturbed habitats at low elevation, Shapiro says, adding that it's "territorial and a hilltopper in suitable terrain, but does very well in towns and cities in the Central Valley. It is multiple-brooded and has a very long flight season, at sea level from February to November, but rarely seen before June in the mountains where it does not appear able to overwinter."
"Its most frequent hosts in our area are mallows, including the weedy species of Malva; legumes, including Spanish Lotus (Lotus purshianus), bird's-boot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), white clover (Trifolium repens) in lawns, alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and many others;and turkey mullein (Eremocarpus or Croton setigerus, Euphorbiaceae)."
We recently spotted the Gray Hairstreak grabbing some nectar on our guara (Guara lindheimer). Its distinctive orange spot matched perfectly the color of the nearby Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
Those of us joining naturalist Steve Daubert's butterfly talk and tour at the UC Davis Arboretum last September also spotted a Gray Hairstreak. The good news is that he's giving another "Butterfly Ecology Talk and Walk," sponsored by the UC Davis Arboretum, on Sunday, Sept. 14. It's free and open to the public. Participants will gather at 11 a.m. by the trellis at the California Native Plant GATEway Garden (newly-constructed garden at the Arboretum's east end, just behind the Davis Commons Shopping Center). (See the Arboretum calendar for more information and a map.)
"Last year at the Arboretum Butterfly Walk and Talk we talked about the co-evolution of the butterflies with the flowering plants, starting in the Middle Cretaceous," Daubert told us in an email. "This year we will set the scene farther back into the Mesozoic Era and talk about the origin of the advanced insect orders, including the Lepidoptera (the holometabolous insects). We will also talk about blue colors in the animals. And we will talk about butterfly gardening for folks here in the valley. We will be looking to see members of the five butterfly families commonly found in Davis."
Daubert is a molecular scientist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology. In addition to writing scientific technical text, he writes short stories, illustrated with his own photographs. He blogs at threadsintheweb.com.
Gray Hairsteak, Strymon melinus, nectaring guara. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bottoms up! Gray Hairstreak sipping nectar from guara. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)