Sunday, April 14, 2019

HumBug: Bugs Between the Raindrops

Posted By on Sun, Apr 14, 2019 at 1:30 PM

An as yet to be identified bumblebee on dandelion - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • An as yet to be identified bumblebee on dandelion

Despite the dreary weather, life must go on. Eager to get along with their lives, our local insects show up even for the brief patches of sunshine that occasionally grace my back yard. Mostly disdained by the local honeybees, oxalis, dandelions and English daisies draw a crowd.

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Sunday, April 7, 2019

HumBug: Looks Can be Deceiving

Posted By on Sun, Apr 7, 2019 at 11:10 AM

A digger, not a carpenter. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A digger, not a carpenter.

Last week I mentioned a large shiny black bee that visited my rosemary plants. In all my field guides the only large shiny black bees are carpenter bees, genus Xylocopa. Although there was a definite similarity, something wasn't quite right so I investigated further. With the help of some online friends and resources, I learned these bees are actually members of the family Anthophora, digger bees. So far, that's as far as I can get, identification wise. I was relieved to find this family digs in the dirt, not in the beams of my house.
Calypso lures naive queens with a false promise of sweet reward. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Calypso lures naive queens with a false promise of sweet reward.
Next Monday, April 15, is a day I look forward to every year. It's the day I mark as the day the fairy slipper orchids, Calypso bulbosa show up under my fir trees. These inch-wide flowers emerge every year about this time. A single leaf emerges from a marble-sized bulb and they produce a single pretty little flower. The literature says they are usually pollinated by naive bumblebee queens who enter the flower seeking nectar, which the flowers do not produce. After several unsuccessful attempts, the bees learn and move on to more productive plants but, in that learning process, they transfer pollen between flowers assuring the next generation of dainty blossoms who will continue to dupe bees as they have for innumerable generations.
Wasp-like markings offered little protection for this hapless hover fly. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Wasp-like markings offered little protection for this hapless hover fly.
On the way back from my expedition to the land of the fairy slippers, I stopped to take a photo of a hover fly apparently dining at a trillium. When I brought the photo up to review, I noticed the fly, whose wasp like markings offer it some degree of protection in life, had also been the victim of deception. A flower spider (Thomisidae) was enjoying the product of its camouflage. These spiders lay in wait, hiding in flowers and readily eat bees and wasps, too.
Crab/flower spider was not deterred by the deadly stinger of this honeybee. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Crab/flower spider was not deterred by the deadly stinger of this honeybee.
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Sunday, March 31, 2019

HumBug: Partial Sun, Chance of Butterflies and Bees

Posted By on Sun, Mar 31, 2019 at 11:09 AM

California tortoiseshell populations fluctuate erratically. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • California tortoiseshell populations fluctuate erratically.

Well, at least we had one sunny day. Along with the rest of us, the insects crawled from their hidey holes in bark crevasses, burrows in the ground and old wood.

A couple of days ago I got a brief glimpse of what I suspected was a California tortoiseshell butterfly (Nymphalis californica). Sometimes, for reasons that aren't clear, their population can explode. Some years ago I counted nearly 100 of them apparently migrating upstream along the Van Duzen River. On Thursday a dozen or so flitted about the plum trees in my yard. They were accompanied by nearly as many painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui), purported to be the most widespread butterfly in the world seen on all continents except Antarctica.

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Sunday, March 24, 2019

HumBug: Spring May Have Finally Sprung

Posted By on Sun, Mar 24, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Celastrina echo butterfly as we usually see them. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Celastrina echo butterfly as we usually see them.

After a few false starts it feels like spring is finally underway. Days ago, a walk in the woods with my dogs produced a tick. I've said before I do not like ticks but as a community service I try to give a heads up when I see them about.

I also kicked up what I believe was an Echo Azure (Celastrina echo) butterfly. These tiny shiny blue butterflies flit along the damp places of the river bar. Unfortunately, when they land, they usually hold their wings over their back exposing the gray undersides and hiding the bright blue uppers. Only occasionally opening them when perched and displaying to attract a mate.

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

HumBug: Going into the Light (Fixture)

Posted By on Sun, Mar 10, 2019 at 2:00 PM

About a month's worth of bugs from my kitchen light fixture. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • About a month's worth of bugs from my kitchen light fixture.

In an effort to make one of those yucky housecleaning tasks a tad more interesting, I decided to check out the dead bugs in my kitchen light fixture before feeding them to my goldfish. In the past I've found millipedes and, once upon a time, even a potato bug (Jerusalem cricket). How that got up there is anybody's guess.

It is well known that many insects are phototrophic (attracted to lights) but in the case of the Jerusalem cricket, it is just the opposite. They live under rocks and logs and ordinarily shun the light.

Electric lights can be deadly to insects, especially semi-enclosed ones that get warm. Small as they are, insects are continually fighting a battle to maintain the proper water content in their bodies. That is why insecticidal soaps work. They dissolve a thin layer of waxy material that helps slow the animal's water gain or loss.

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Monday, March 4, 2019

HumBug: Blooming too Early or Bugs too Late?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2019 at 9:24 AM

Fungus gnats on fetid adder's tongue. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Fungus gnats on fetid adder's tongue.

Despite the weather lately, spring is happening, at least in the plant world. Last night on a walk, I saw fetid adder's tongue (aka “brownies,” aka Scoliopus bigelovi), and Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) and a patch of naturalized daffodils, all in bloom. Along with brilliant yellow acacia and the pink and white fruit trees along the side of our local roads, the spring blooming season has started, insects or no.


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Sunday, February 24, 2019

HumBug: Spring Wildflowers and the Bees that Love Them

Posted By on Sun, Feb 24, 2019 at 3:19 PM

Cold bumblebee — maybe Sitka Bumblebee (Bombus sitkensis) — on my lucky horseshoe. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Cold bumblebee — maybe Sitka Bumblebee (Bombus sitkensis) — on my lucky horseshoe.

To be honest opportunities for a bug photographer have been rather slim lately with all the rain and cold weather.

The other night, coming home late I found a nearly comatose bumblebee on my lucky horse shoe. Of all the members of the order Hymenoptera (which translates to, “membrane wing”) which includes ants, bees, wasps, sawflies and horntails, they are the most adapted to being active in cool weather. They are mostly black, which allows them to absorb more heat from sunlight. Their bodies are largely covered with hair, which holds warm air close to their body. They can regulate the blood flow from the thorax where the big wing muscles are, allowing them to warm up by flexing to keep the heat thus produced where it is most useful. This allows them to outcompete other species during the cool weather of early spring. It is not unusual to find one slowed below their "chill coma temperature" (as low as 45 degrees) and either totally immobile or slowed to the point of being unable to fly.

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

HumBug: Bugs from Long Ago and Last Night

Posted By on Sun, Feb 17, 2019 at 11:14 AM

Memorial portrait of Matilda, collected in the 1980s. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Memorial portrait of Matilda, collected in the 1980s.

About 30 years ago, I was riding my mountain bike in the desert north of Reno when I saw a large, shiny insect climbing up one of the sage bushes. I stopped, emptied the little container I kept full of bike tools into my pockets and collected it. By that time I'd almost given up collecting, but this was a remarkable specimen. Its large back legs indicated it was a member of the order orthoptera, which contains grasshoppers, crickets, katydids and their kin. The large saber-shaped ovipositor (egg laying structure) indicated it was a female.

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

HumBug: Darkling Beetles and Mosquitoes

Posted By on Sun, Feb 10, 2019 at 7:41 PM

Darkling beetle stacked image. Ya' got a little dung  on your face there, buddy. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Darkling beetle stacked image. Ya' got a little dung on your face there, buddy.

The sound of the rain had stopped and I was all ready to go out and capture a photo of the spider that eluded me the night before. I got all loaded up with cameras and gear, dressed for the cold, went to the back door, turned on the light and there was a world of white. Even the dogs didn't want to go out. So, rather than freeze looking for a critter who was probably hiding from the cold under the shingles of my pump house, I decided to stay in and work on one of those challenging focus stacked images.

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

HumBug: Bees and May-bees on the Willow

Posted By on Sun, Feb 3, 2019 at 1:05 PM

Bumblebee on willow catkin. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Bumblebee on willow catkin.

The pussy willows are just starting to bloom along the river and, being pretty much the only game in town, they're attracting the early birds of the insect world.
Bumblebees, adapted to cool weather, were out and defending their territory by circling around me at a dizzying pace. These are the next generation of queens that will soon establish new colonies, usually in holes in the ground like abandoned gopher burrows. Unlike honey bees, the colony does not overwinter. Only fertilized females live through the cold season, re-establishing their entire society anew each year. They were interesting to watch methodically working from the bottom of each catkin to the top getting all the nectar from each of the tiny flowers of which they are composed.

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