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Bad Day for a Bee

It was a good day to be a praying mantis. It was not a good day to be a honey bee.

Just before noon today, we watched a green praying mantis lurking in the African blue basil, like a camouflaged soldier ready to ambush the enemy. His eyes remain focused on a single honey bee gathering nectar for her colony. She is moving slowly but methodically, buzzing from one blossom to another.

The predator and the prey. An epic battle. A battle that's been waging for millions of years.

The honey bee keeps nectaring. The praying mantis keeps watching. He is not admiring her nectaring skills. He is seeking a bee breakfast like the one he had yesterday.

Suddenly, with one swift leap, the praying mantis snares and traps the honey bee in his spiked forelegs. The bee struggles to escape but the mantis tightens his grip with his needlelike vise.

The bee will not be returning to her hive tonight.

Wait...what's this...a dive-bombing attack?

It is. A male leafcutter bee is dive-bombing the predator. Is he trying to protect his cousin, the honey bee, or just being territorial? At any rate, he is a double blur as he dive-bombs from above, targeting the predator and then pulling up to do it again. Five passes. Some near misses, some near body slams. Some passes are so close that their antennae touch.

The praying mantis glances at the leafcutter bee and continues eating, somewhat like the Carl Jr. commercial, "Don't bother me, I'm eating."

"I'm eating and you're next."

A praying mantis snares a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A praying mantis snares a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A praying mantis snares a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The leafcutter bee targets the praying mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The leafcutter bee targets the praying mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The leafcutter bee targets the praying mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The leafcutter bee nearly slams into the mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The leafcutter bee nearly slams into the mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The leafcutter bee nearly slams into the mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The praying mantis keeps eating. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis keeps eating. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The praying mantis keeps eating. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The praying mantis polishes off the last morsel. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis polishes off the last morsel. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The praying mantis polishes off the last morsel. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, September 1, 2014 at 4:22 PM
Tags: honey bee (139), leafcutter bee (7), praying mantis (38)

A Lady Beetle and Gulf Fritillary Caterpillars

What's this?

 

A lady beetle, aka ladybug, sharing stories with Gulf Fritillary caterpillars?

 

Well, not likely.

 

The lady beetle (family Coccinellidae) preys mainly on aphids--it can eat about 50 aphids a day or some 5000 aphids in its lifetime. But it will devour other soft-bodied insects, including mites, scales, mealybugs, leafhoppers, and butterfly eggs and larvae (caterpillars). Butterfly caterpillars move quite slowly; they are not Indy 500 speedsters.

 

We spotted a lady beetle early this morning on one of our passionflower (Passiflora) seed pods, surrounded by hungry Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) caterpillars. It was  somewhat like a two-peas-in-a-pod scene, but without the peas.  Here were two insect species ON a pod, and both sharing the same warning color: red.

 

The Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are hungry.  Very hungry. They've stripped the passionflower vine of all its leaves and are now eating the stems and seed pods. Actually, we planted the passionflower vine for them.  But are they THAT hungry? They are. They're famished. And there are literally hundreds of them.

 

Sometimes we think that all of the Gulf Frit butterflies west of Mississippi are gravitating toward the plant to lay their eggs. The vine cannot support that many hungry caterpillars,  despite predation by scrub jays and European paper wasps.

 

The lady beetle, we assume is not only eating the tiny yellow eggs of the Gulf Frit, but the tiniest of the tiny larvae.  It's an exquisite buffet of tasty treats with high nutritional value.

 

And easy pickings. 

Lady beetle, aka ladybug, with its new
Lady beetle, aka ladybug, with its new "friends"--Gulf Fritillary caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Lady beetle, aka ladybug, with its new "friends"--Gulf Fritillary caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Fritillary caterpillars move around the lady beetle, aka ladybug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary caterpillars move around the lady beetle, aka ladybug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Fritillary caterpillars move around the lady beetle, aka ladybug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A touching moment. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A touching moment. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A touching moment. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Fritillary caterpillars will grow up to look like this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary caterpillars will grow up to look like this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Fritillary caterpillars will grow up to look like this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, August 29, 2014 at 4:29 PM

The Cactus Climber

He's a survivor.

His sisters and brothers didn't eat him when he emerged from the egg case. In fact, he probably ate some of his brothers and sisters.

He has managed to elude his predators: bats, birds and spiders.

Yes, our praying mantis is very much alive and quite well, thank you.

It's early morning and the praying mantis is a lean green machine as he climbs a green cactus from his base camp, a flower bed of pink lantana. He's not engaging in mountaineering for the sport of it or for the summit view. He's climbing the cactus to better position himself to find prey: to ambush an unsuspecting butterfly or bee.

He's not concealed but he's perfectly camouflaged. And he's cunning.

He stops, swivels his head 180 degrees--praying mantids can do that, you know--and proceeds to climb to the top of his Mount Everest.

It's a sight you don't see very often. First, because praying mantids usually blend into their environment. Second, how many times have you seen a green praying mantis climb a green cactus?  And third, this cactus climber has something in common with the plant: the needlelike "ouch" factor. The cactus is spiny. The praying mantis has spiked forelegs to grasp its prey.

The mantis reaches the summit. He folds his forelegs as if in "prayer." Well, not quite. He looks as if he's begging for his breakfast.

It promises to be a good day, a top-of-the-morning day.

Praying mantis, perfectly camouflaged, stops in the midpoint of his climb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis, perfectly camouflaged, stops in the midpoint of his climb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Praying mantis, perfectly camouflaged, stops in the midpoint of his climb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Praying mantis reaches the summit. In the background is a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis reaches the summit. In the background is a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Praying mantis reaches the summit. In the background is a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Praying mantis folds his spiked forelegs, as if in prayer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis folds his spiked forelegs, as if in prayer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Praying mantis folds his spiked forelegs, as if in prayer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 9:18 PM

Eric Mussen to Keynote WAS Conference

Honey bee nectaring lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee guru Eric Mussen is retired but the "R" word isn't stopping him.

Mussen, who served 38 years as California's Extension apiculturist, based at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, has changed the "R" word into a "K" word.

"K" for keynote speaker.

Mussen will deliver the opening keynote address at the 37th annual Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference, scheduled Sept. 17-20 at the University of Montana, Missoula, Mont.

Mussen, a five-time president and co-founder of WAS, will discuss "Changes in Beekeeping Over Three Decades" from 8:45 to 9:45 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 18 in the University Center.  

The conference will take place in conjunction with the 2nd International Workshop on Hive and Bee Management, Sept. 17-21 and the Missoula Honey Harvest Festival, Sept. 20.

The WAS conference,  themed "The Path of Discovery to the Future," will be conducted by president Jerry Bromenshenk, a professor at the University of Montana and the state director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (DOE EPSCoR).

Sept. 17 is the 2nd International Workshop on Hive and Bee Monitoring, sponsored by WAS and the Bee Culture magazine.  Jerry Hayes will discuss Monsanto research and scale hives, and Dick Rogers, Bayer CropScience research and scale hives.  Other topics include wide-scale scientific experiments that can be conducted by beekeepers; interpreting hive weight and temperature; and  acoustic scanning of bee pests, diseases, pesticides, molecular genetics for queen production.

The Sept. 18 WAS agenda, with the keynote address by Mussen, includes talks on honey bee health in Canada; bees in Northern Ireland; bee health and treatments; critical issues for bees and beekeeping; and bees and bee breeding in New Zealand.  One of the speakers is virologist Michelle Flenniken of Montana State University and the former Häagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Davis. She will speak on "Honey Bee Virology and Diseases" from 11:15 to 11:45 a.m. 

The Sept. 19 WAS agenda will include a keynote address, “Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees: Neonic Pesticides and the Prospects for Future Life on Planet Earth” by G. Philip Hughes, of the White House Writers' Group. (Already that has people singing "Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees"--Jewel Aken's 1964 hit.) Among the other presentations will be  “Working Bees” by Randy Oliver of Scientific Beekeeping; critical issues for bees and beekeepers;  adapting bee management to climate change; and honey producers.

The Western Apicultural Society, founded in 1978, is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization for beekeepers throughout western North America.  Membership is open worldwide. However, the organization was designed specifically to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming; the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon; and the states of northern Mexico.

There's still time to register for the conference, according to Fran Bach, WAS newsletter editor.

See schedule

 

Eric Mussen, who retired this summer as Extension apiculturist, will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, Sept. 18 at the Western Apicultural Society conference at the University of Montana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Eric Mussen, who retired this summer as Extension apiculturist, will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, Sept. 18 at the Western Apicultural Society conference at the University of Montana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Eric Mussen, who retired this summer as Extension apiculturist, will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, Sept. 18 at the Western Apicultural Society conference at the University of Montana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 9:12 PM

Saving the Monarchs

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation issued news today that is both disturbing and hopeful.

Disturbing in that the monarch butterfly population (Danaus plexippus) has declined by more than 90 percent in under 20 years.

Hopeful in that the monarch may receive federal protection through the Endangered Species Act.

The Xerces Society, the Center for Biological Diversity,  the Center for Food Safety, and monarch scientist Lincoln Brower, have filed a legal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the monarch through the Endangered Species Act. The agency must respond within 30 days as to whether the petition warrants further review.

“Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range,” related Lincoln Brower, preeminent monarch researcher and conservationist, who has been studying the species since 1954.

Tragicallly, the monarchs have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat, including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds that contain their host plant,  milkweed. The female monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed and this is the only food their larvae eat.

As Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, told us today: "Might be too little too late but they have to preserve/conserve milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) That's more important than the butterfly itself."

Xerces earlier sounded the alarm on the critical role that milkweeds play in the monarch's life cycle.

Senior scientist Tierra Curry of the Center for Biological Diversity, hammered home this point in the news release: “The 90 percent drop in the monarch's population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio.”

And the loss of habitat is equal in size to the state of Texas.

The news release said that the butterfly's dramatic decline is "being driven by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born. The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, a uniquely potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar's only food. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in midwestern corn and soybean fields."

Science policy analyst Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety was quoted as saying: "The widespread decline of monarchs is driven by the massive spraying of herbicides on genetically engineered crops, which has virtually eliminated monarch habitat in cropland that dominates the Midwest landscape. Doing what is needed to protect monarchs will also benefit pollinators and other valuable insects, and thus safeguard our food supply.”

Monarch butterflies are known for their spectacular multigenerational migration each year from Mexico to Canada and back, the news release said.

"The population has declined from a recorded high of approximately 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 35 million butterflies last winter, the lowest number ever recorded," according to the release. "The overall population shows a steep and statistically significant decline of 90 percent over 20 years. In addition to herbicide use with genetically engineered crops, monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl, and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds. Scientists have predicted that the monarch's entire winter range in Mexico and large parts of its summer range in the states could become unsuitable due to changing temperatures and increased risk of drought, heat waves and severe storms."

Endangered species director Sarina Jepson of the Xerces Society worries--and rightfully so--that the monarch may become extinct, just like the passenger pigeon.

We are, too. We've seen only two--two--of these majestic butterflies fluttering in our family bee garden this year.

Monarch butterfly nectaring on Mexican sunflower, Tithonia, as a territorial male longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, takes aim. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch butterfly nectaring on Mexican sunflower, Tithonia, as a territorial male longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, takes aim. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch butterfly nectaring on Mexican sunflower, Tithonia, as a territorial male longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, takes aim. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch butterfly heading toward a butterfly bush. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch butterfly heading toward a butterfly bush. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch butterfly heading toward a butterfly bush. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is milkweed, the monarch's host plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is milkweed, the monarch's host plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is milkweed, the monarch's host plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 5:48 PM

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