Backyard Orchard News
If you see a patch of California native wildflowers known as "Tidy Tips," look closely.
The yellow daisylike flower with white petals (Layia platyglossa) may yield a surprise visitor.
You may see an assassin.
An assassin bug.
A member of the family Reduviidae, this is a long-legged, beady-eyed beneficial insect that stalks its prey and snatches it with its forelegs, somewhat like a praying mantis. It conquers its victim with a squirt of deadly venom from its beak (the collective term for its piercing, sucking mouthparts).
Once it has immobilized its prey, the assassin sucks the bodily contents, like a milkshake slurped through a straw.
The assassin bug, true to its name, ambushes, attacks and captures other insects, such as aphids, flies, crickets, mosquitoes, beetles, caterpillars and "sometimes a hapless bee," said Bohart senior museum scientist Steve Heydon.One thing about the Zelus assassin bug--it does not fly very fast. In fact, it totally ignored the camera poked close to its protruding eyes.
The camera neither looked like or acted like a predator or prey.
Patch of Tidy Tips
Sip of Nectar
Ladybugs, aka ladybird beetles, are searching for aphids and other soft-bodied insects.
If you see a ladybug (family Coccinellidae), odds are you'll see her prey, the plant-sucking aphids.
Today we spotted a ladybug in a flower garden on the UC Davis campus and she wasn't there to enjoy the warm sunshine or watch the students go by.
She was there to dine.
The ladybug snared a few aphids, then flipped under a leaf like an Olympic athlete performing a daily routine.
She wasn't going for a gold medal, though. She was heading for another kind of gold--a gold aphid.
Face to Face
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It's a killer, pure and simple.
But the issue is as complex as it comes.
The malaria mosquito, from the genus Anopheles, infects some 350 to 500 million people a year, killing more than a million. Most are young children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Female mosquitoes “bite” because they require a blood meal to develop their eggs. They detect their prey via olfactory receptor neurons found on their antennae, the insect equivalent to the human “nose.”
When Anopheline mosquitoes are infected with a parasite that causes malaria, the insect-host transmission occurs. The result: a deadly killer.
Identifying exactly how malaria mosquitoes detect their human prey is crucial to developing strategies for mosquito control, says chemical ecologist Walter Leal, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
Leal, recently asked to write a "News-and-Views" piece on a Yale-Vanderbilt study for the international science journal, Nature, did so eloquently in its March 4th edition. He praised the scientific report as a “milestone discovery in our understanding of the malaria mosquito’s sense of smell.”In the article, headlined "The Treacherous Scent of a Human," Leal zeroes in the widespread threat of malaria, a disease that threatens half of the world’s population. It's "an accessory to the deaths of about one million humans every year,” Leal wrote. “Globally, the number of people who get malaria each year is greater than the population of the United States.”
That's putting a number on the numbers.
The Yale-Vanderbilt team, headed by John Carlson of the Yale Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, examined 79 of the malaria mosquito’s odorant receptors, finding that some are well-tuned to detect specific human odors and others aren’t. Certain odorants activate some receptors but inhibit others, according to their comprehensive study published March 4 in Nature.
Indeed. The Leal lab back in 2008 published groundbreaking research that revealed the secret mode of the insect repellent, DEET. The scent doesn't jam the insect senses and it doesn't mask the smell of the host, as scientists previously thought. Mosquitoes avoid it because it smells bad to them.
Leal advocates more molecular studies in the war against malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. But that research can't stand alone. As he succinctly points out: “The development of effective malaria control will require a multidisciplinary approach that includes, but is not limited to, improvements to social infrastructure in countries affected by disease, vaccination programs and vector management.”New mosquito attractants or repellents, he says, could be developed through reverse chemical ecology, determining which odorant attracts and which repels.
Mosquitoes don't like the scent of DEET. What else do they NOT like?
The study, as Leal correctly observes, "offers a fresh strategy for controlling the unwitting accessories to one of the world’s most prolific killers.”
Walter Leal in lab
If you've ever strolled the streets of New York, you probably noticed a few honey bees here and there.
Not the HIVES (they're illegal), but the BEES.
Tomorrow, the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will vote on whether city residents can keep bees in the Big Apple.
The answer ought to be a resounding "yes."
We need bees in the Big Apple--and elsewhere throughout the country and the world.
A great article in Sunday's New York Times drew attention to the issue. The headline buzzed: "Bees in the City? New York May Let the Hives Come Out of Hiding."
Reporter Mireya Navarro put it succinctly: "New York City is among the few jurisdictions in the country that deem beekeeping illegal, lumping the honey bees together with hyenas, tarantulas, cobras, dingoes and other animals considered too dangerous or venomous for city life."
Fact is, aggressive pit pulls, notorious panhandlers (including the Wall Street bankers) and and sneaky pickpockets can thrive in the city, but not the three-quarter-inch-long insect that pollinates blossoms.
Currently if you have a hive in New York, you could be fined $2000.The good news is that there's a good chance the ban on beekeeping will end March 16 when the New York City Health Department votes whether to amend the health code to allow beekeeping.
We were glad to see Häagen-Dazs come out in support of overturning the New York City beekeeping ban. In a Feb. 24th news release, the ice cream brand officials pointed out that the honey bee crisis is threatening our food supply. "Not only is the honey bee endangered, so too are the caretakers of our petite pollinators," the news release noted. "Today the average age of a commercial beekeeper is 60 years old. Beekeeping is a dying art that needs to be sustained and supported."
And one way to do that is to encourage backyard or hobbyist beekeepers. We can also plant bee-friendly gardens, avoid insecticides, and spread the word about the importance of bees and other pollinators.
Häagen-Dazs helps support honey research at the University of California, Davis, and Pennsylvania State University. The brand also supports the half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven and the quarter-acre Campus Buzzway at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis.We suspect that if New York lifts the bee ban, we'll see scores of beekeepers coming out of the wordwork...er...their hives.
And from the rooftops.
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