Backyard Orchard News
Hide the cactus! There's a Mexican cactus fly in our midst.
A large black fly hovers over a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in our bee garden and then drops down to sip some nectar. At first glance it looks like a carpenter bee but this one hovers like a syrphid fly, aka flower fly or hover fly.
"Hover fly," I say.
Entomologists Martin Hauser, Lynn Kimsey and Robbin Thorp quickly identified the critter.
Hauser, senior insect biosystematist with the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, says it's in the genus Copestylum (with over 350 species in the new world) and figured it to be the species, mexicanum, commonly known as the Mexican cactus fly.
Said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis: "Nice, this is actually a kind of syrphid flower fly, better known as a cactus fly. The larvae breed in rotting cactus tissue."
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, also figured it to be a Mexican cactus fly, Copestylum mexicanum. "It's commonly known as a cactus fly (Syrphidae, Tribe Volucellini). "It used to be in the genus Volucella, But now it's in the genus Copestylum."
This fly is not small. It's about 3/4 of an inch long. It lays its eggs in rotting plant material "and they really like rotting cacti," Hauser commented. "As far as I know, they only go into dying cacti and do not attack healthy cacti…. But there is actually not much known about their biology."
The resident cacti expert at our house is worried, showing his best prickly pear expression. He quickly canvasses the yard. Whew! No rotting cacti. All thriving and in good health.
So far, so good...
Black hover fly, aka Mexican cactus fly, sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view of the black syrphid fly, a Mexican cactus flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mexican cactus fly ready to take off. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
That's the theme of San Francisco's Exploratorium Pier 15 event on Thursday night, Oct. 2.
Graduate student Ralph Washington of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will be staffing the Bohart Museum of Entomology table at the event, open only to adults 18 and over.
Washington, who studies with major professor Steve Nadler and volunteers at the Bohart Museum, will showcase the “oh my” drawers, so named because onlookers exclaim “oh my” when they see them; and live animals from the petting zoo, which include Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and millipedes. He also will show a PowerPoint presentation about camouflage and deception in the insect world.
The event will take place from 6 to 10 p.m., at Pier 15, located at Embarcadero at Green Street, San Francisco. General admission is $15; for members, it is $10.
“After Dark” is a mixture of theater, cabaret and a gallery, according to its website.
Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator at the Bohart Museum, said "After Dark" is aimed at young adults.
From the website:
“Delve into the science behind deception at After Dark. Find out how expert wine detective Maureen Downey exposes costly counterfeits—without uncorking a bottle. Glimpse the blurred margins between science and art in Victorian spirit photography with Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco curator Melissa Buron, and walk through a virtual mirror staged by Exploratorium physicist Paul Doherty. Play with exhibits exploring the nature of perception, including a room-sized “Vanishing Act.” Encounter the uncanny in the mischievous mentalism of Brad Barton, Reality Thief, and let magician and Exploratorium scientist Luigi Anzivino show you how the odds can be stacked against you in a seemingly innocent game of chance. Learn the tricks carnivorous plants use to lure their treats, meet servals and ocelots from Bonnie Cromwell's Classroom Safari, and become a connoisseur of camouflage—animal and otherwise.”
Information on tickets and parking and other data on the Exploratorium Pier 15 website.
A walking stick is expected to be one of the Bohart Museum of Entomology attractions at Exploratorium Pier 15 on Oct. 2. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
UC Davis entomology graduate student Ralph Washington (right) chats with UC Davis assistant professor/bee biologist Brian Johnson at the Bohart Museum open house on Sept. 27. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Okra. You either love it or hate.
If you hate it, it's probably because of its characteristic "slime" that it produces. It's a mucilaginous plant. If you love it-- absolutely love it--you may be from the Deep South, where okra is king. They bread the slender green pods and deep-fry them. And they pickle them. It's also a key ingredient in gumbo.
Indeed, it's a vegetable rich in Vitamin C, fiber and potassium.
But if you're a garden spider living in the Good Life Garden at the University of California, Davis, you depend on the tall okra plants to weave your web and trap insects. Then you can spin them around, wrap them tighter than a ball of string, and feast on them later.
The Good Life Garden is located behind the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science on Old Davis Road. It's a well-cared for garden chock full of fruits, vegetables, herbs and ornamentals.
And predators and prey.
Its aim, according to its website, is "to educate the public on how to buy and plant seasonal vegetables for the best taste and highest nutritional content. Each season the garden's planting list will be available online along with information on how to grow, harvest, buy, and cook the various plants, herbs, and fruits found in the garden."
The garden is aptly named. The Good Life.
Good for people, predators and prey.
A garden spider wraps its prey, a honey bee, in The Good Life Garden. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Garden spider struggles with its prey, a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The new UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's graduate student is an incredible success story who hurdled the obstacles heaved in her path and lets nothing—absolutely nothing--block her education, enthusiasm, research or goals.
The first thing you notice is her unbridled enthusiasm, whether she's monitoring Virginia Creeper leafhoppers or parasitized leafhopper eggs in a UC Davis research vineyard, or sharing insect photos of everything from assassin bugs to praying mantids.
Preto, a former foster care youth, turned a disadvantaged childhood into a college diploma, and a college diploma into graduate school.
“I'm the first in my family to graduate from college and to attend graduate school,” said Preto, who calls Los Angeles “home.”
In June, UC Davis awarded her a bachelor's degree in viticulture and enology with an entomology minor in agricultural pest management. Now she's studying for her master's degree in entomology with major professor and integrated pest management specialist Frank Zalom, distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
“I first met Cindy in my Entomology 110 class, Arthropod Pest Management,” Zalom recalled. “She was usually the last student to leave the diagnostic labs each week, and one time she apologized to me for staying so long. She said that she had been out of school and working for a while so she wanted to get the most out of her classes.”
“She was a viticulture and enology major,” Zalom said. “We discussed having her do an undergrad research project on grapes, so she applied for and received a MURALS (Mentorship for Undergraduate Research in Agriculture, Letters and Science) scholarship which allowed her to conduct a project in my lab.”
Her project? The development of the invasive European grapevine moth. Preto conducted her research in the Contained Research Facility on campus with co-advisors Spencer Walse and Dave Bellamy of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. Like Zalom, they praised her “excellent work ethic and enthusiasm.”
Preto has presented her research at the UC Davis Undergrad Research Conference and at the ESA's 2013 national meeting on “The Effects of Temperature on the Chronological Distribution of European Grapevine Moth's (Lobesia botrana) Life Stages from Egg Eclosion.” Next she'll present her undergraduate research at the ESA's 2014 meeting and is currently preparing a manuscript as a co-author for publication.
On Saturday, Sept. 27 Preto will represent the Zalom lab at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house on “How To Be an Entomologist” from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane.” She'll show visitors what leafhoppers and parasitized eggs look like.
“I am currently doing a biological survey of Virginia Creeper leafhopper in vineyards, looking at the population dynamics of all life stages, egg, nymphs, and adults,” Preto said.
The Virginia Creeper is one of three leafhoppers that she's studying in her population dynamics research. The others are the Western grape leafhopper and the Variegated leafhopper. They're all about the same size: 2 millimeters. In rearing eggs from nymphs to adults, she knows the distinguishing characteristics of each.
Zalom admires her enthusiasm, commitment and professionalism. “I was not seeking another grad student, but I couldn't help but accept Cindy into my lab when she decided that she would like to pursue a master's degree,” Zalom recalled. “Her project on leafhoppers associated with grapes fits her goals of working again in the grape industry when she completes her degree. Her enthusiasm for learning hasn't changed, and her research has been proceeding very well.”
Indeed it has. She's also drawing widespread attention as a scholar. She received a Peter J. Shields Scholarship in September 2011; a Wine Spectator scholarship in September 2012; the MURALS research scholarship in November 2012; a Syngenta Scholarship, June 2013; a Wine Spectator Scholarship in October 2013; and an Orange County Wine Society Scholarship in October 2013.
Preto also participates in the new UC Davis program, Guardian Professions Program or GPP, which is open to Masters/Ph.D students who are former foster care youth. And, she continues to participate in the Guardian Scholars Program or GSP, open to all UC Davis students who were cared for in foster homes. GSP students offer support for one another and also to current and former foster care youth in local high schools and community colleges by offering UC Davis campus tours, outreach, interactive activities, and speaking on panels to share their story in hopes of encouraging former foster care youth to seek higher education.
A world traveler, she has journeyed to all seven continents, all 50 states, and to 59 countries. "It can be inexpensive," she said. Along the way, she's taken scores of images of insects.
Preto takes a multi-disciplinary approach to not only her research but life in general, eager to know, learn and share. She figuratively skips to work, excitedly looking forward to new entomological finds. She's recorded and photographed not only leafhoppers, but assassin bugs, minute pirate bugs, stink bugs, lace bugs, mites, thrips, damselflies, dragonflies, moths, bees, wasps, spiders (jumping spiders and black widows), whiteflies and praying mantids.
When Preto is not out in the field monitoring insects, you'll usually find her reading about them or studying them in the lab—weekends included. “It's extremely fascinating,” she said.
Her career goal? To work for a vineyard in a pest and disease management position, preferably in an organic grape or sustainable vineyard. Another goal: to receive her Pest Control Adviser license.
“I love it,” she said.
UC Davis graduate student Cindy Preto is studying vineyard leafhoppers. (Photo by Liam Swords)
Cindy Preto, shown here in a UC Davis vineyard, is the first in her family to graduate from college. She's now a master's student, studying with Frank Zalom. (Photo by Liam Swords)
Sticky traps in the vineyard. (Photo by Cindy Preto)
Roberta Barton has joined the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources as a community educator. Barton will develop and lead unique outreach and educational programs that highlight key agricultural topics and research projects underway at the Kearney Agricultural, Lindcove and West Side Research and Extension Centers in Fresno and Tulare counties. The UC REC system enables the delivery of the highest quality science to promote healthy citizens and thriving communities. Barton holds a degree in Journalism from California State University, Fresno and has decades of community relations experience in the non-profit and public sectors, including previous positions with the Fresno County Public Library, Westlands Water District and Valley PBS.
Roberta Barton, a community educator for Kearney Agricultural, Lindcove, and West Side Research and Extension Centers.