Science

Sunday, April 12, 2020

HumBug: Early Spring Pollinators

Posted By on Sun, Apr 12, 2020 at 4:37 PM

Spring is on the way. I saw my first trillium bloom of the year, and the daffodils and stone fruit trees are in full bloom. The last few sunny days have brought forth pollinators. I think it's kind of a chicken-and-egg problem. The flowers get pollinated by bugs. If the flowers aren't open the insects starve. If the flowers open and there are no insects, they don't get pollinated and don't set seed. The balance has been honed over millennia and everything works out. My rosemary is being serviced largely by the hirsute bees of the family anthrophora.
Fuzzy Anthrophora pacifica work diligently, harvesting pollen and nectar from rosemary. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Fuzzy Anthrophora pacifica work diligently, harvesting pollen and nectar from rosemary.
These fuzzy, stocky bees are a bit larger than honeybees and are quick, nervous fliers. They are “solitary bees,” which means they don't have workers maintaining a nest. Each female burrows into the ground, lays eggs and sets out provisions for them. After reaching their adult phase, they go on alone.

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Sunday, March 29, 2020

HumBug: Bugs in the City

Posted By on Sun, Mar 29, 2020 at 2:43 PM

A quick trip to San Francisco a few weeks ago, when that was still possible yielded familiar creatures. At a rest area we saw at least three California tortoise shell butterflies frolicking in the sun. There were western box elder bugs on one of the picnic tables. They suck juices from box elders, maples and other trees.
Box elder bug on picnic table. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Box elder bug on picnic table.


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Sunday, March 1, 2020

HumBug: Saps, Jumpers and Stingers

Posted By on Sun, Mar 1, 2020 at 10:43 AM

Lacquering a dowel, I found half a dozen tiny beetles waiting for the chance to entomb themselves in the artificial amber. These are sap beetles. They are usually minute like this one, and different members of the family (nitidulidae) feed on various things including rotten fruit. Some years ago my strawberry patch was infested with a different species which are known to carry fungi on their legs which they introduce into the fruit, hastening its decay.
Tiny sap beetle next to threads on a tiny picture frame eye screw holding up the dowel for lacquering. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Tiny sap beetle next to threads on a tiny picture frame eye screw holding up the dowel for lacquering.

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Sunday, February 23, 2020

HumBug: Strategy

Posted By on Sun, Feb 23, 2020 at 1:41 PM

I had to remind myself it's still winter as I watched a mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) and two smaller orange butterflies flutter by, too high and fast to get a photo of. The orange specimens were most likely rustic anglewings but there are several other locally common species which overwinter as adults, emerging on warm winter days. Painted ladies and tortoise shells, to name two.
In England, the mourning cloak, known as the Camberwell beauty, emerges from its winter hiding place to frolic on warm winter days. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • In England, the mourning cloak, known as the Camberwell beauty, emerges from its winter hiding place to frolic on warm winter days.
Biology and entomological texts say this “strategy” gives species practicing it a jump start over others which spend the cold, barren months of winter completely dormant as eggs, larvae or pupas.

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Sunday, February 16, 2020

HumBug: Winter Insects

Posted By on Sun, Feb 16, 2020 at 11:10 AM

Walking along the road, I saw my first two milkmaids (Cardamine californica), the daffodil bulbs my friend gave me last fall, are starting to put up leaves and the pussy willows are budding out. They are all welcome reminders, spring is still in our future. 
Pussy willows are starting to bud out, even if not yet open for business. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Pussy willows are starting to bud out, even if not yet open for business.
Despite the coolness of the day, there were quite a few small wolf spiders and a few unidentified flies sunning themselves on rocks near the river.

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Sunday, January 26, 2020

HumBug: Three for a Rainy Day

Posted By on Sun, Jan 26, 2020 at 6:13 PM

With rainy cold days suppressing entomological activity it put my assertion that there's always, ALWAYS something interesting to find outdoors to the test. So, camera in hand, I went looking.

The weather forecast said it would snow down to 1,000 feet elevation, so it was indeed cold out and there was very little activity above ground. But a quick tip of an old cinderblock showed three denizens often found there: a centipede, a Jerusalem cricket and a ground beetle.
Mother centipede strikes a defensive pose around her young. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Mother centipede strikes a defensive pose around her young.
These centipedes (Scolopocryptops gracilis) often exhibit maternal protective behavior.

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Sunday, January 19, 2020

HumBug: The Current Mass Extinction

Posted By on Sun, Jan 19, 2020 at 4:51 PM

There have been five major mass extinction events in the fossil record. Some folks claim the human race is causing the sixth right now. Dumping massive amounts of greenhouse gasses, saturating the world with never before seen chemicals and introducing all manner of non-native species willy nilly are touted as the major causes. 
Apple damage from insects competing with me for the fruit of my trees. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Apple damage from insects competing with me for the fruit of my trees.

I have a different perspective. As population inexorably increases, loss of species diversity is directly driven through the conversion of wild lands to agricultural lands necessary to support the increasing number of (human) mouths.

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Sunday, January 12, 2020

HumBug: Even Parasites have Nightmares

Posted By on Sun, Jan 12, 2020 at 11:10 AM

Some experts assert that the most common lifestyle in nature is that of parasitism. (Read Rachel Nuwer's interview with ecologist Kevin Lafferty "Parasitism is the Most Popular Lifestyle on Earth" for more on this.) The world of arthropods is no exception. I've mentioned before that mankind's deadliest opponent in nature is the synergistic combination of mosquitoes and the diseases they carry.
Bloated tick which apparently fell off the dog onto our bed. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Bloated tick which apparently fell off the dog onto our bed.
Our native species aren't vectors for the worst of the ailments but, locally, ticks can and do carry Lyme disease, which came to mind when we found a blood engorged female on our bed after the dog spent an evening there.

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Sunday, December 15, 2019

HumBug: Best of the Bugs

Posted By on Sun, Dec 15, 2019 at 11:04 AM

After almost five years doing a weekly blog it had to happen. With rainy, cold weather and the fact that over the last several years I've already written about most of the noteworthy entomological subjects hereabouts, this week I didn't see any new critters worth photographing or writing about. So I think I'll do what other writers do in similar circumstances and resort to a “Best of” article, selecting a half dozen of my all time best photographs with an explanation of what makes them my personal favorites.
Hoary skimmer (Libellula nodisticta), very young, not grayed out by time yet. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Hoary skimmer (Libellula nodisticta), very young, not grayed out by time yet.
In 2009, driving across State Route 36 for work, I stopped at a wide spot near a small spring to stretch my legs. I got out my new digital camera and took a shot at a dragonfly perched on a stick. When I downloaded it onto my computer, I was amazed at how well it turned out. That one shot got me hooked.

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Sunday, December 8, 2019

HumBug: Preserved for Posterity

Posted By on Sun, Dec 8, 2019 at 11:06 AM

I recently did something I haven't done in a long time. I went looking for glow worms in my backyard. Locally I've found them to be amazingly common in the leaf litter beneath our local redwoods but lately they had been absent from our usual haunts. This time though, I was greeted by at least half a dozen in my little area. (For a more detailed introduction to our local luminaries check out my previous post "Glow Worm vs. Snail," Dec. 11, 2016.)
A glow worm (Pterotus integrippinis) was photographed and returned to the wild unscathed. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A glow worm (Pterotus integrippinis) was photographed and returned to the wild unscathed.


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