Backyard Orchard News
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
Ladybugs eat lots of aphids. Did we say lots of aphids? Lots of aphids. They have no portion control.
If you watch closely, you'll see them gobble aphids like theater-goers devour buttered popcorn. Ladybugs eat so many aphids you wonder if they'll ever be able to lift off the plant.
Last Saturday we observed the usual: a ladybug chomping down aphids. But wait! What was that riding on her back? Coud it be? Was it?
It was. An aphid was riding the ladybug like a cowboy on a bucking rodeo bull. Didn't the aphid know that one little slip, and no more happy trails?
"Well," one wag said, "that's the safest place for an aphid--on the back of a ladybug."
Aphid on a ladybug
It wasn't the Battle of the Sexes.
It was the Battle of the Males.
I spotted two male carpenter bees buzzing loudly over the salvia (sage) in our back yard Saturday morning. Each was lying in wait for a female, but instead found a competitor.
Now male carpenter bees are quite territorial and these two were no exception. The would-be suitors chased one another all over the yard, from saliva to salvia. One would buzz into a blossom for a quick nectar fix and the other would aggressively chase it away.
One stopped long enough, however, for me to capture his photo.
Ol' Blue Eyes.
UC Davis entomologist-pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, professor emeritus, identified this male as a Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex Smith
It's the most common carpenter bee in the Davis area, Thorp said. "It loves to nest in redwood structures: fences, arbors, picnic tables, etc. It is the smallest of the three carpenter bees in California. The males are quite variable in hair color on the thorax: from virtually all dark, to some yellow in front of the wing bases, to virtually all yellow on top."
Another carpenter bee increasingly found in the Davis area is the valley carpenter bee. The sighting of the male, a green-eyed fuzzy yellow "teddy bear," prompts lots of calls to the UC Davis Department of Entomology. "What is it?" they ask.
We point them to our Web page for the scoop on the three types of carpenter bees found in California.
As spring unfolds, expect to see more of them.
Ol' Blue Eyes
Ol' Green Eyes