This weekend, I had the chance to visit the Discovery Museum in Sacramento, CA. While the museum itself was pretty awesome for a small space, I was most intrigued by something I saw outside. The museum is surrounded by trails with some riparian habitat and plenty of oak trees in the area. Typical California woodland. All these oaks had these funny looking “apples” all over them which are really not apples at all. They’re called galls, and are actually quite common if you know where to look. Often, wasps or flies will lay their eggs in plant tissues (leaves or stems of plants) to develop. The immature insect emits chemicals that mimic plant growth hormones thereby creating a protective covering for themselves as they develop. Once they’re mature, they chew their way out of the gall and fly free!
This is a great blog post about the Oak Gall Wasps of California: Left Coast Naturalist: Oak Gall Wasps – the Cynipids.
via Oak Gall Wasps.
One of my good friends from grad school now studied passalid beetles at the University of Kentucky. While she’s interested in cooperation and sociality, it just so happens that passalids are of interest to another group of researchers.
Dr. Eoin Brodie works at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and is also an assistant adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (whew, that’s a mouthful).
One of their research projects is to understand how these beetles might optimize biofuel production by studying the beetle’s symbiotic gut relationships. Let’s hear it for my alma mater!
Passalid beetles: Nature’s efficient lignocellulosic biorefineries | Brodie Environmental Microbiology Group @ LBNL.
And the cicadas return…check out this great post on The Two-Way from NPR about RadioLab’s quest to track the emergence!
via It’s Almost Cicada Time! Help Radiolab Track #Swarmageddon : The Two-Way : NPR.
The best part about an online magazine, is that they send you emails only if you want them. And in the case of Saveur, I get tasty recipes to try on a regular basis. Last week, a number of recipes for a Summer Vegetarian Feast filled my email inbox. One was a delicious leek and zucchini galette, combining great flavor and seasonality.
There are leeks growing alongside my onions in some fields. Some of the growers I work with have a few different Allium species growing including garlic and leek. These crops could be subject to leek moth infestation, but leek moth is currently only known in certain areas of New York and Canada (in North America). An invasive species from Europe, leek moth, Acrolepiopsis assectella, is a small, brown to black moth with yellow-green caterpillars. The pupae are small cocoons with a distinct lacy casing.
Adult Leek Moth courtesy of AgroAtlas
Leek moth pupal casing
Leek moth damage include mining and perforations in the leaf, with window-paning damage where the caterpillar has not eaten all the way through all layers of the leaf tissue.
Leek moth damage
While there are no chemical treatments yet in New York, cultural treatments such as crop rotation, row covers, and removing vegetative debris at the end of the season are recommended. In Canada, a parasitoid wasp Diadromus pulchellus was released as a biological control agent as part of an integrated pest management approach to control leek moth. Perhaps that may be an option for leek moth control here as well.
Until last weekend, I had never seen a firefly (except for the television show by Joss Whedon). Geographic location, time of year, weather, all these things had simply not aligned to allow me to experience the magical wonder of a firefly show.
Fireflies, or lightning bugs, are not actually flies or true bugs. They’re actually beetles in the family Lampyridae. This looks like the little critter that I caught over the weekend, as fireworks were flying overhead. In unprepared entomologist fashion, I stuck it in an empty Mentos gum container since I didn’t have a vial. You could see the glow through the plastic even though it wasn’t see through.
Photo Courtesy of Cirrus Images
The glow, or bioluminescence, is the result of a chemical reaction in the abdomen of the beetle. The color can vary along a spectrum from yellow to green to pale red. Both males and females flash in a call and response type of mate selection. Species specific flash patterns and durations allow females to distinguish their gentlemen callers and respond only to their species. In the case of Photuris species however, females mimic another species response to lure the males as prey. The poor little guys, I’m sure they thought everything was just shiny.
Photo courtesy of Beneficialbugs.org
Last week I went on a field trip to visit some orchards and we found one of these guys.
Photo courtesy of Cirrus Image
The “Eyed Click Beetle” or Alaus oculatus is in the family Elateridae. The common name of this groups is from the clicking mechanism that beetles use as a defense or to simply right themselves. See the video below!
If you haven’t seen this yet…