Backyard Orchard News
It's true. You can't put a limit on anything.
The praying mantis, aka Lean Green Machine, dived off the high board, did a reverse 3-1/2 double somersault with 1/2 twist and swam to the edge of the Olympic-sized pool. He gingerly lifted himself out of the water as a cheering spectator handed him a bouquet of red roses.
Well, it didn't happen quite that way.
The praying mantis entered our shallow birdbath—maybe a baptismal ceremony?—and using his best dog-paddle, praying-mantis stroke, swam across the birdbath. Then he leaped onto a yellow rose occupied by a bee.
Maybe he was simply “wetting” his appetite (er, “whetting” his appetite).
Fish swim. Crocodiles swim. Snakes swim. Dogs swim. Cats swim. And praying mantids swim.
Praying mantids are observant critters. They know where to go for breakfast, lunch and dinner and a few snacks in between. A bee garden is their supermarket, a veritable one-stop shopping experience. No carts, credit cards or courtesy calls needed.
Praying mantids are so camouflaged that you rarely see them. But when you're watering the plants in the early morning, a spray of water will prompt them to emerge. Displeased and disgruntled. Peeved and perturbed. Kicking and kvetching. This is no "Good-morning-sunshine!" kind of greeting.
In our family bee garden, they perch on the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) and lie in wait for prey. You'll see them swiveling their heads at 180 degrees as they patiently wait to ambush an unsuspecting bee or butterfly. Their spiked forelegs ensure there's no escape.
We've all heard that a female praying mantis will sometimes behead and eat her mate. We've all heard that the hundred or so nymphs that hatch from the egg case will eat their brothers and sisters. They've been doing this for 150 million years or so.
Some teachers keep praying mantids in their classroom. Some folks keep praying mantids as pets. We think we'll train ours to be the insect version of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who medaled 22 times, 18 of them gold.
A praying mantis eyes a Gulf Fritillary butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A praying mantis "wetting," er, "whetting" his appetite. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis emerges from his morning swim. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A new planting of 500 Tango mandarin trees is scheduled for this month and field preparations are...
Digging a new irrigation trench
The Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) is the kind of butterfly that combines steel with silk.
It's a tough critter. Often you'll see it with its wings clipped by a predator--maybe a bird or a praying mantis.
Then when you see it glide around, landing on Jupiter's beard, it's the epitome of grace.
The magnificent butterfly is found throughout much of western North America, from British Columbia to North Dakota in the north to Baja California and New Mexico in the south. We've seen it nectaring not only on Jacob's beard, but zinnias, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), California buckeye but thistles, too.
Kite makers, dress makers and tattoo artists mimic this colorful yellow-winged butterfly with its bold black stripes and ll orange and blue spots on its swallow tail.
This one favored Jupiter's beard on Gates Canyon Road, Vacaville, but if you look closely you'll see that a predator tried to give it a clean shave.
Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, glides on Jupiter's beard, Centranthus ruber. This one is missing part of its wing structure, no thanks to a predator. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Western tiger swallowtail swoops down for a little nectar on Jupiter's beard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Western tiger swallowtail sipping nectar from Jupiter's beard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Congratulations to Prof. Bryce Falk who recently advanced to Distinguished Professor. This is quite an honor and recognizes career-long contributions to research, teaching and service.
No, no, no, you got it all wrong!
I said “Please don't eat the pollinators! No butterflies and no bees. Eat the flies, gnats, mosquitoes, aphids and stink bugs. No butterflies or bees.”
Sadly, the praying mantis in our family bee garden does not listen to me. On Thursday morning, July 31 the praying mantis snagged and devoured a Western tiger swallowtail that made the fatal mistake of landing on his Mexican sunflower (Tithonia)
On Sunday morning, Aug. 2, while perched on the same flower, the praying mantis polished off a honey bee.
I was walking through the garden at the time but never saw the strike. One second he's lying in wait, and the next second, his powerful forelegs are gripping a honey bee.
You don't want to know what happened after that.
Still, I wonder...did the honey bee manage to sting him?
Praying mantis snags a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis getting a better grip. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's the end for this honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)