Backyard Orchard News
If you see a caterpillar near a cluster of aphids, don't squash it. It could very well be the larva of a syrphid or hover fly (family Syrphidae) and it's eating aphids.
What do they look like? I happened to capture an image of a tiny syrphid larva on a rose leaf, and sure enough, it was eating aphids.
Community ecologist Louie Yang, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty last year, has also photographed syrphid larvae. He recognized this one right away.
If you want to learn more about syrphid flies, be sure to read Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops, Publication 8285 (May 2008), UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. It's primarily the work of UC Davis entomologist Robert Bugg; with expertise offered by Ramy Colfer, chief organic agricultural researcher, Earthbound Farms, Salinas; William Chaney, farm advisor, UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Monterey County; Hugh Smith, farm advisior, UCCE Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties; and James Cannon, UC Davis computer resource specialist.
In the publicaiton overivew, Bugg writes that "Flower fly development involves complete metamorphosis, including egg, three larval stages, puparium, and adult. Adults of many flower fly species resemble stinging bees and wasps. This phenomenon is called Batesian mimicry, indicating that palatable organisms resemble or 'mimic' unpalatable models. Worldwide, there are many aphidophagous syrphid speices."
"Adult hover flies require honeydew or nectar and pollen to ensure reproduction, whereas larvae usually require aphid feeding to complete thir development."
Below, you'll see a syrphid larva doing what it does best: eating aphids.
Adult syrphid fly
The important work that soldier beetles (family Cantharidae) do is never more exemplified than in the "before" and "after" photos.
When the aphids landed on our rose bushes, a few ladybugs came to dine, but the insects that really stopped the aphid onslaught were the soldier beetles.
Veni, Vidi, Vici! They came, they saw, they conquered.
And now, since their food source is gone, the soldier beetles have flown off to find another tasty smorgasbord.
Yesterday we spotted only one soldier beetle (genus Podabrus) on a rose bush. If you look closely, you'll see why there's only one.
Look ma, no aphids!
Lone soldier beetle
Insects are cold-blooded so their temperature coincides with their environment.
Before the sun rises, they lie ever so still. As the sun warms them, they stir ever so slowly.
At 6 a.m. yesterday, we checked the roses for aphids (yes, they were there) and so were the predators: the soldier beetles and ladybugs.
A soldier beetle crawled to the edge of a leaf. A ladybug cartwheeled over a leaf and then clung to the tip.
Breakfast is ready!
Aphid in early morning sun
Except it wasn’t planned.
On the last day of a two-day advanced workshop on "The Technique of Instrumental Insemination,” taught by bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. UC Davis, bees from one of the hives began to swarm.
It was perfect for one of Cobey's students, Ventura resident Bill Weinerth,
The bees headed for a nearby tree. Cobey, manager of the Laidlaw facility, smoked them to calm them down before shaking the bees loose and into their new home: an awaiting hive.
Weinerth loves working with bees. “I’ve had bees all my life except for 10 years when I was going to school (master’s of divinity),” he said.
“When I was 12, and living in
It's been a bee-loved passion every since.
Filming the swarm
Swarming in a Tree
Close-up of bee swarm
Smoking the Bees
They're good soldiers, those soldier beetles.
Members of the family Cantharidae, they are beneficial insects that eat other insects, especially aphids and caterpillars--but just about any soft-bodied insect will do. If no insects are available, you'll see them dining on nectar and pollen.
We saw these soldier beetles, with their long, narrow reddish-orange bodies and brownish-gray wing covers, on our rose bushes this morning.
As aphids scooted up and down the steps and leaves, so did the soldier beetles. Three formed a "troop" in a three-gun salute.
California is fortunate to have more than 100 species of these "soldiers of fortune." They're also called leather-winged beetles or leatherwings. Check out their long, threadlike antennae.
If you see soldier beetles in your garden, savor them. They're the good guys.
Please pass the aphids.
Eating an aphid
AphId in Flight