Thursday, July 31, 2008
I didn't used to be able to look at statice flowers without thinking "Grocery Store Bouquet". And whenever I think grocery store bouquet, I think "Guy trying to make up to his gal for some stupid thing she thinks he did". So statice (limonium sinuata) had a bit of a cheesy reputation in my mind. But since I've grown it myself (from seed!) it's proven to be a very rewarding plant. These were seeded last spring (2007) and grew nice rosettes of leaves, then started flowering in early spring 2008. They haven't stopped sending up fresh flowering stalks since, and that with little water or any special care; as the older stalks turn yellow I cut them off at the base to make room for the new growth coming up.
This half-grown greybird grasshopper nymph with its autotomized right hind leg (schistocerca nitens) makes a better decoration for this middle of summer, dog-day bouquet than any cheesy florists' pick that would purport to celebrate some hallmark day ever could.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Pugs, the caterpillar of geometrid moths in the genus Eupethicia, favor composite flowers and especially seem to prefer rudbeckia and sunflowers. You can see very tiny ones as soon as the disk flowers start to produce pollen, and watch them grow and perform their various bodily contortions across the sunny flower faces.
This one on a fading sunflower is doing the stick imitation, in which the caterpillar extends and stiffens its body I suppose in a effort to look like a stick.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Three beetles I found around the house:
The first beetle is Cotinis mutabilis, called commonly around here the green peach beetle. When they are alive they fly clumsily during the day often running into solid objects. You can see the dorsal surface of the beetle is cracked and all scratched up. When they are dying, they are often found upside down sometimes spinning in circles. When they are alive, they feed on fruit and nectar. They lay their eggs among rotting organic matter in the soil and so their larvae (grubs) grow underground until late spring when they emerge. I first noticed these grubs when I did some early spring digging and came across a bunch of them feeding on the previous October's buried pumpkin mush.
The second beetle is likely to be in the subfamily Melolonthinae, the May and June beetles. It entered my house at night and buzzed around in the dark while we wondered whether it was a large moth. Next morning I found its body next to the kitchen sink in a small pool of water. These nocturnal beetles emerge in late spring, mate, and lay eggs in the soil. Some of the grubs are pests of lawns and other ornamental plants as they eat the roots.
The third beetle is encased in acrylic, a bit of "real dead beetle" jewelry. Few think it is important to acknowledge the species of creature they use to make these trinkets, but I found several references to beetles similar to this one called Green Chafer Beetle. Trichiotinus bibens, a species found here in the U.S. looks like this one; the items seem to be imported from Thailand but its not clear whether their local species are used or the bug bodies are sent there for the acylicizing process. Are the beetles raised in captivity for the purpose of making this jewelry, or are they captured in the wild as they attempt to feed or mate?
Anyway, I wonder if any or all of these got their beetle business done before they died.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
There are a lot of lizards in the garden this summer. I was trimming back the nutmeg basil so other plants could have a chance at some sun, and at the point where I was in the pruning zone--a zen-like state of one-ness with the objective of the pruning process--when I was startled back into myself by an eye looking out of the shrub directly into my eye. The other eye belonged to a lizard that had climbed 2/3 of the way up the basil and was resting on a branch. This most likely is a Southern alligator lizard which are said to readily climb vegetation. In fact, I most frequently find their nearly intact skin sheds up inside shrubs and larger perennials.
Another task at hand--clearing the holes in the fly traps--required a stick. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a serviceable stick but when I reached for it, it had turned out to be a lizard tail. I guess in my mind's eye I saw the stick, but decided the tail was a better size or shape and so my hand was directed to the tail. Ew.
Anyway, fly traps and lizards are well and functioning. Flies beware.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
I found this batch of harlequin bug eggs, Murgantia histrionica, on a dried flower umbel of Ammi majus, the other (prettier than Daucus carota in my opinion) Queen Anne's lace. The bugs are active (feeding, mating) in the sweet alyssum ground cover below and climb up stalks of things growing among the lower flowers to lay their eggs.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
During our recent spell of what the weather-people call monsoonal moisture I've noticed a lot of flies roosting on the flowers at sundown. Here are some green bottle flies (Lucilia "used to be Phaenicia" sericata) clustered on a gaillardia flower, and a couple others hanging out on some dusty miller. They spend the night on the flowers; I know because in the morning I find their calling cards (aka droppings or specks) all over the petals and sepals.
Friday, July 18, 2008
I bought this aloe years ago at a home improvement warehouse that shall remain unnamed. Its helpful plastic tag read "Assorted succulents" and advised me to plant my purchase in the sun and not to water it too much. There are hundreds of aloe species and I haven't gotten around to identifying this one yet. Since planting it I've taken many cuttings and rooted them but I do believe this clump shown is the original. Those are acacia cultriformis seed pods that have fallen onto the aloe from the tree above.
Now that succulents and cacti are so popular, you would think nursery stock would be routinely identified, but no. Even at a very posh, expensive garden/outdoor lifestyle center that shall remain unnamed I find tables of beautiful 3- and 4-inch plants tagged as "assorted succulents". I guess its not important to know whether your aloe will attain tree-like stature or whether your new crassula friend is monocarpic. Maybe the surprise and discovery of unknown attributes is part of the fun of collecting these personable plants but I like to think knowledge is generally better than ignorance.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Sunday, July 13, 2008
I watched this dragonfly (Libellula saturata) as he hunted small flying things in the garden. In about 20 minutes he caught and devoured maybe 12 or 15. It's interesting to see how he lands on his perch with such precision, always in the same attitude, then just after alighting he adjusts the angle of his body to the stick--just so with a self-assured little tug like a sailor setting a knot in the rigging or a pilot fixing the trim. You can hear the sound of the dragonfly's wings chattering--just--above the jet roaring overhead but the flies rarely sense the hunter until it's too late.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Geez, moths are so hard for me to identify I tend to treat them as random and varied artistic elements, taking advantage of the sinister evocations of their nocturnal reputations, even though all of these moths were out during the day and will never suck your blood or smother you or steal your soul.
They might eat your plants, however. The last one is so common and pesky even I know it: a cabbage looper . . . moths are often known by their caterpillar names, the names given them by the farmers who love to hate them for the damage they do to crops . . . or more properly Trichoplusia ni.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
for mosquitos. One of the first things I noticed about this limoniid cranefly were the elongated mouthparts deceptively similar to those of a mosquito. Compared to the local mosquito talent, this creature was about the same size, but with much longer legs, lacking the mosquito's hunchbacked thorax, and notice how un-mosquito-like the huge halteres (knobby stabilizers on each side under the wings) and that elongated neck area are. Still, out of the corner of one's eye, one tends to pick up on the iconic mouthparts. The dead give-away that this was a cranefly, though (aside from DNA analysis) was that it had lost some legs as craneflies are likely to do. This one was vibrating, or bobbing, suspended by its two remaining legs from a spent lemon verbena flower spike. This fly looks very much like pictures of subgenus Geranomyia found on the Carnegie Museum site's cranefly page. The elongated mouthparts common to these species are used for nectar feeding during the short (just a few days) adult lifespan. And, they are known to "bob". Most of the descriptions I read of the larval habitats are aquatic or very moist, which does not generally fit our surrounding area so I'm not sure where they are breeding. Can't be too far away, though, as the adults seem to be weak fliers. Probably has something to do with the neighbor's leaking faucets because of course our faucets never leak.
Sunday, July 06, 2008
About the beginning of last month I began to see small dark aphids on a clump of Nassella tenuissima growing near the back door. The aphids for the most part lined themselves up along the flower spikes and looked remarkably like the developing seeds. Maybe this is a camoflage adaptation; maybe the flower spikes are richest in the plant juices the aphids feed on. I was not able to identify the species, but there are many aphids to choose from that prefer grains as their host plant and it is likely to be one of those: evenly grayish green in color and smallish compared to oleander or rose aphids.
The aphids were flourishing about a week later when a few adult ladybird beetles arrived. These were spotless ladybirds, Cycloneda sanguinea. They got busy and laid eggs, and just about a week later the grass was alive with beetle larvae.
It was interesting to watch both the adults and larvae hunt; it seemed challenging for them to move along the very thin grass blades. They seemed to find it easier to move upside down while hanging from their tarsi. Occasionally one would lose its footing, sometimes falling only to pick up on another grass stem and move on. There was a lot of grass to cover as in order to find and devour any one aphid the predator had to cover the stem that aphid was on. I watched for awhile and saw a lot of fruitless hunting, covering grass blades that I could see from my giant's perspective had no aphids. The beetle or larva would plug on, out to the end of a blade and back down. After about 10 days there were no aphids left on the plant, the beetle larvae had pupated and the adults had long since flown away.
So. Ladybird beetles control aphids: nothing special or unusual about that. What I think is special and noteworthy about my observation of the efficiency of ladybird/aphid predation is that it is so commonplace; that we live in an ecosystem where such specialized systems are ordinary and to be expected. Long may our ways of life prevail.
Each grass blade is about 18 inches long. In a bundle 1/2" in diameter I counted 150 stems. The entire grass clump is 3 inches in diameter. That gives an estimated 94,500 inches, or just about 1 1/2 mile of grass to cover. If two passes over each stem were required that distance would be doubled.
BTW, Mexican feather grass (n. tenuissima) is a grass native to parts of the southwest US and Mexico. I like to grow it so I can watch its brilliant fine textured leaves and golden seed awns moving through the sunlight in the slightest breeze. The particular clump in this post was a volunteer seedling. Out of the thousands of seeds the plants produce each summer very few germinate under my dryish garden conditions. The few that do grow are very easily pulled if necessary. However there is concern about n. tenuissima becoming an invasive pest in California wildlands. I'm looking into growing Purple needlegrass, nassella pulchra, (a California native) instead.
Friday, July 04, 2008
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Every once in awhile I'm reminded there is a skeleton inside me. This makes "me" (my psyche) feel funny as apparently it's unsettling for the mental me to have to recognize the somatic me. Talk about coming to terms with bodily realities, imagine having to invert, shed and replace your outer skeleton, as insects do, several times in your life just as a normal process of maturing and growing. Humans shed and renew skin cells in an ongoing, mostly sub-conscious process. We grow gradually in the same way without any dramatic processes that we must physically and mentally participate in (I'll exempt the birth process here).
As I was shedding epidermis and growing older without really thinking about it one recent morning this freshly molted forktailed bush katydid (scudderia furcata) adult caught my eye. His new exoskeleton is still soft and has that unfired-looking celadon green tint. Imagine the intricacy of the process of extracting those long legs, delicate wings and antennae from the old exoskelton. Amazing, yet so commonplace.
Check out the stages of growth of Scudderia furcata on this page . Scroll to the bottom and click on Developmental Stages. By the way, this photo sequence shows a pink color phase katydid. Occasionally I see an individual with some pink, but so far never as dark as the one shown.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Everbody loves a butterfly. Yay, butterflies. This one, a West Coast Lady (Vanessa anabella) allowed me time to take a number of photos as she sipped nectar from the statice. The larval food plants are mallows, such as cheeseweed and including hollyhock. Plenty of those around in our urban gardens and empty lots, probably accounting for the relative abundance of this species as compared with the migratory V. cardui (painted lady) which we haven't seen a lot of in the past several dry years.