Sunday, May 20, 2018

HumBug: Aphid Cows and Ladybugs

Posted By and on Sun, May 20, 2018 at 11:22 AM

Empty husk, or exuviae, of a froghopper's last molt before adulthood. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Empty husk, or exuviae, of a froghopper's last molt before adulthood.

I recently wrote about spittlebugs and how their larval form covers themselves with a bubblebath of processed plant sap for protection. At the end of their last larval stage (instar) they climb out of the slimy soup, shed their skin one last time and emerge as a stout looking version of their leafhopper cousins. As adults they no longer hide in a gob of suds but hop and fly. Their hopping prowess can even exceed that of the flea.
Aphid on a dandelion. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Aphid on a dandelion.
I have started to see aphids on some of the local thimbleberry plants. Like the froghoppers, they are members of the order hemiptera and suck plant juices, sometimes acting as vectors for plant diseases. They can secrete a sticky, sugary substance called “honeydew” which some ants like. The ants will actually protect their aphid cows and harvest the sugary secretion as humans harvest milk from cows.
Ladybug pupa (cocoon phase). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Ladybug pupa (cocoon phase).
Now that their favorite prey is out and about, the well-known gardener's friend, ladybugs, are starting to show up eating small garden pests like aphids both as larvae and adults. The black and orange larvae remind me of alligators for some reason. One of my favorite things to do with the adults is to allow it to crawl on my hand with my fingers pointing upward. They almost always crawl upward to the tip of a finger, then take flight. It seems to be a genetically programmed instinctual behavior.
Adult ladybug taking off from fingertip. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Adult ladybug taking off from fingertip.
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , ,

Sunday, May 13, 2018

HumBug: Strange Defense

Posted By on Sun, May 13, 2018 at 11:35 AM

A bubbly little nymphal spittle bug. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A bubbly little nymphal spittle bug.

The nymphal spittle bug is a wondrous creature. It sips plant juices and processes the waste into a bubbly foam with which it surrounds itself. If you've ever gotten the stuff on your hand you know it is sticky and gooey. I understand it is unpleasant tasting as well. (I've not done that experiment.) It provides the developing frog hopper with protection from predators and drying out, and gives some insulation against extremes in temperature.
Bubble mass on a stalk of vetch. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Bubble mass on a stalk of vetch.
I know of nothing that deliberately hunts them, although as adults they leave the froth and hop and fly about making themselves vulnerable to all the usual predators. Usually their feeding is insignificant to most plants, except in the case of an unusually heavy infestation, and they can be washed off while watering.

A mass of baby orb weaver spiderlings ready to protect the world. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A mass of baby orb weaver spiderlings ready to protect the world.
When I was a kid some comic books featured a page of scientific factoids. One that stuck in my mind was the following: If you allowed a pair of flies to reproduce at their normal rate and none of their offspring died or were killed, and they reproduced, in two years you would have a ball of flies the size of the Earth. I've never done the math but knowing exponential growth curves, the theory is not surprising.

Considering a recently published article estimates that spiders, like the orb weaver babies in the photo above, consume somewhere between 400 to 880 million metric tons of insects a year, they are on the front lines against an insect Armageddon. I, for one, am all for it.
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , ,

Sunday, May 6, 2018

HumBug: A 10-year Mystery

Posted By on Sun, May 6, 2018 at 10:54 AM

An as-yet unidentified scarab beetle. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • An as-yet unidentified scarab beetle.

About 10 years ago I found a round black beetle about the size of a large pea in my dog's water bowl. I could tell right away it was a scarab. A closer inspection revealed it had an impressive horn on the tip of its nose. Although I wasn't actively collecting, it was impressive, it was dead, I still had the tools and I hated letting it go to waste.

Looking for something to try out my new Canon 6D Mark II in conjunction with my StackRail, I got the little scarab out. It broke in two so I glued it back together. Unfortunately, I didn't have any museum-sanctioned insect repair adhesive so I used some “Head cement” from my dry fly tying kit. It didn't turn out to be the best choice but I did manage to get the little critter repaired, positioned and, 238 images later, processed into one image.

Identification has been challenging so far. It might be a burrowing scarab. While seldom seen, they are more common than one might think since they don't usually come out into the world of humans and deadly dog bowls.

An endangered San Francisco lacewing. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • An endangered San Francisco lacewing.
A walk along the Van Duzen River today yielded another uncommonly seen critter, a San Francisco lacewing (Nothochrysa californica), which is considered an endangered species. As rare as it is, I can't find any references as to its life history. Likely as not, like their green and brown cousins, they are predators of tiny insects like aphids.

A tiny fairy moth on an English daisy. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A tiny fairy moth on an English daisy.
To round out my day, I saw a favorite I've been expecting: a tiny fairy moth. They are the only species of moth hereabouts with such luxuriously long antennae. We can usually expect to see them for a couple of weeks at this time of year.


  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , ,

socialize

Facebook | Twitter

© 2020 North Coast Journal

Website powered by Foundation