Backyard Orchard News
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
Who hates termites? Raise your hands.
Those dratted termites damage our homes, decks, furniture, fence posts and other wooden materials.
But at the 95th annual UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 18, you’ll see termites “walk the line”--ala the Johnny Cash song--between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at Briggs Hall.
(Too bad Cash didn't sing about termites "walking the plank." But then, termites wouldn't "walk the plank"--they'd eat it.)
Tara Thiemann, one of the graduate students in entomology coordinating the activity, will take a pen (Papermate or Bic ballpoint pen with blue ink),
take a pen (Papermate or Bic ballpoint pen with blue ink),draw a line on white paper, scoop up a termite, and place it on the paper.
The termite will walk the line.
Since termites are blind and cannot hear, they rely on smell to navigate. They navigate by following the scent of a pheromone, which is a chemical they secrete to send information to their buddies.
It so happens that a chemical in certain ink pens smells just like a pheromone, so they'll follow the trail.
Not all pens, however, are created equal in the pheromone category. Many contain no pheromone-like scent. And those that do certainly aren't labeled: "Attracts termites."
Lisa Reimer, a malaria mosquito scientist who received her doctorate in entomology last year from UC Davis, told us that it's too bad that we can't use the termite trail "technology" to draw termites out of our homes.
"Like draw a line right out the front door," she quipped.
"But," she added, "it doesn't work that way."
Walking the Line
Poet Gertrude Stein wrote in her 1913 poem, "Sacred Emily," that "a rose is a rose is a rose."
Things are what they are. The laws of identity. No matter where I go, there I am.
When I captured this photo last Sunday of a fly on a rose petal, I immediately thought "A fly is a fly is a fly."
Not to an entomologist.
The common house fly (Musca domestica Linnaeus) commonly breeds in manure, compost piles and dumpsters.
The housefly is known to transfer at least 100 different pathogens, and carry about 6.6 million bacteria on its body at a single time, according to UC Davis forensic entomologist and fly expert Robert Kimsey. It's responsible for transmitting both parasitic and bacterial pathogens as well as viruses. Among them: typhoid, cholera and dysentery (bacterial diseases) and infective hepatitis (virus).
It's enough to make you "stop and fell the roses."
Fly on a Rose