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Lace & Fuzz 

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Lacewings

I was cleaning up storm debris from my yard when a tiny creature fluttered daintily by. I recognized its flight pattern immediately as one of the prettiest and most delicate things I know: a green lacewing. It brought a smile.

The order Neuroptera ("nerve winged") has some really dainty insects. It is a bit of a contradiction in that, despite their frail appearance, they are excellent predators of aphids and other small, soft-bodied insects. As larvae, they remind me of the mind-controlling creatures from the Star Trek movie The Wrath of Khan. (But on a tiny scale.) Long, slender mandibles pierce and suck the juices from their victims. As adults, they chew up the same prey.

The green and brown varieties live hereabouts and occasionally come to lights at night. Both have been cultivated and sold as biological controls for aphids.

One of my most prized specimens is a rather rare giant lacewing that I collected outside of Reno, Nevada, more than 20 years ago. The vein pattern in its wings is remarkable. Little is known of their life history. Like mine, most specimens collected have been drawn to lights. I am just glad that unlike the bird collectors of Victorian England who hastened the demise of the great auk, I haven't killed off the last specimen in my enthusiasm. After all, there are newer photos online.

Bee Alert

While working outside, I noticed a large black and yellow bee diligently working its way around the periphery of a dandelion. I paused and took a picture of it to report to www.bumblebeewatch.org. The organization is tracking various species of the genus Bombus, some of which are endangered. The website offers a nifty opportunity to compare your photo to drawings designed to extenuate identification characteristics of the various North American species.

There is a growing international industry of breeding bumblebees as an alternative to commercial honeybees (Apis mellifera). Although they don't produce honey, they offer several advantages. Thanks to their largely dark coloration, fuzzy bodies and unique anatomy, they can fly at cooler temperatures. They are also more effective pollinating some flowers, including tomatoes, by using sonication or "buzz pollination," effectively shaking pollen loose by vibrating their wing muscles. Their black and yellow coloration is almost universally recognized in nature as a warning to potential predators that they can sting. Finally, only the queens, and not their nests, hibernate in winter, requiring less off-season care.

As CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) decimates commercial bee populations, bumblebees have been seen as a potential replacement. However, recent articles implicate our trafficking in bees as spreading diseases and parasites that can affect them, too.

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