Backyard Orchard News
The praying mantis isn't at all concerned about culinary choices.
It doesn't worry about who's coming to dinner, only that dinner will come.
This aggressive, predatory insect will eat just about anything it can get its claws on, entomologists agree. That includes bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, crickets, moths and flies. It's even been known to catch and feast on small frogs, birds, lizards, mice and snakes--not to mention its own species. During or after mating, the female often bites off her lover's head and eats him. Sexual cannabalism!
The praying mantis (insect order Mantodea) is difficult to spot. It's camouflaged brown, green or yellow to match its surroundings. You may see it on tree bark, foliage, fallen leaves, sticks 'n stones, blades of grass and flowers. A master of ambush, it perches stealthily, its front legs in a "praying position," as it patiently awaits the first course. Then whoosh! It lashes out and grasps its victim with its spiked forelegs. The ending is not pleasant.
Just be glad that the praying mantis is not human-sized.
Waiting for dinner
The secret's out.
Or, rather, the secret's in. Inside.
A number of years ago, UC Davis entomologist Diane Ullman created a ceramic sign outside the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, located on Bee Biology Road, west of the UC Davis campus.
The colorful sign features a bee hive, blossoms and bees. Some of the bees are ceramic. Some are real.
Real bees? True. The ceramic hive serves as the opening to a real hive tucked in back of the sign. If you look closely at the front of the sign, you'll see bees buzzing in and out of the narrow opening.
Ullman, associate dean for undergraduate academic programs at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and professor of entomology, enjoys fusing art with science and creating community awareness. She's the 2008 faculty recipient of the Chancellor’s Achievement Award for Diversity and Community.
As for the bees, unknowingly part of Ullman's creative art-and-science project, it's definitely home "sweet" home.
Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility
UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey is a genius, to be sure. Show him a fly and he'll tell you exactly what it is and what it's all about.
I shot this photo at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. The honey bee looked huge and the fly, tiny. There they were together. (Ah, if you let your imagination run wild, there's a children's book there! Once upon a time, a bee and a fly...)
The fly is a minute black scavenger fly (Scatopsidae). You see these flies around decomposing matter (in this case, dead bees). After all, worker bees live only four to six weeks in the summer. During that time, they encounter all sorts of killers, such as diseases, pesticides, parasites, stress, climate change, intruders, and the mysterious colony collapse disorder).
Kimsey, an adjunct professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, is known for not only his expertise on flies and his courtroom testimony, but his award-winning teaching. I'm not sure which is the most popular: the CSI television series or Kimsey's classes. (My bet: his classes!)
When I visited a local farmers' market in late September, a UC Davis animal science major mentioned how much she enjoyed his class. "Kimsey, that's it!" she said. "Dr. Kimsey. He's really good."
He is, and he's a genius, too!
A bee meets a fly
What are insect pollinators worth to the global economy?
Well, it's a lot less than the Wall Street bailout...er...rescue plan.
Recent research published in the journal Ecological Economics reveals just how important insect pollinators are.
A Eureka Alert press release issued by the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres says that a team of French and German scientists found that the "worldwide economic value of the pollination service provided by insect pollinators, bees mainly, was $153 billion in 2005 for the main crops that feed the world."
That amounts to 9.5 percent of the total value of the world agricultural food production.
The study says that fruit and vegetables account for about a third of that total. The bee shortage has already hurt growers and consumers worldwide. Pollinator disappearance "would translate into a consumer surplus loss estimated between $190 to $310 billion," the news release says.
A Sept. 26 article in Business Week noted that "
Honey bee researchers think that stress may be one of the factors in the declining bee population. Other factors: malnutrition, diseases, pesticides, parasites and changing climates.
Colony collapse disorder, a phenomonon characterized by bees mysteriously abandoning their hives, is probably due to those multiple factors, according to UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen.
The declining bee population, the growing need for pollination, and the burgeoning
Bee on almond blossom
If you spot a ladybug, don't just start reciting "Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home."
Aim, click and shoot.
With a camera, that is.
Agricultural Research Service scientists and entomologists at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and South Dakota State University, Brookings, are surveying the country's ladybug species.
They want you to photograph every ladybug you see and send the photos to them so they can inventory them. They are specificially seeking rare species, such as the nine-spotted, two-spotted and transverse ladybeetles, but any and all ladybugs will do.
Ladybugs, also known as ladybeetles (family Coccinellidae and beetle order Coleoptera) are the "good guys" and "good gals." They prey on insects that eat our agricultural crops. They also help protect our nation's forests.
The good folks at The Lost Ladybug Project also offer some photo hints. They know that the bugs may not sit still for a photo shoot (let alone "smile") so they recommend you pop them in the freezer to slow them down. "You can do this in a freezer at home or in a cooler in the field," they say on their Web site. "Lady beetles can be chilled in a freezer safely for 5 minutes (over six may kill them) and this will quiet them for 2-4 minutes. Coolers are not as cold as freezers so it will take 30+ minutes to get 1-6 minutes of quiet time. They will survive for days in a chilled cooler."
Nope, I did not "chill" my ladybugs. No ladybugs were harmed or "chilled" in the making of these photographs. I popped the 60mm macro lens on my Nikon and stealthily waited amongst the Russian sage.