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.
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!
When you take time to smell the flowers, or rather peer at the onions, you find some pretty cool stuff. This week, Simon shared with me another little gem of nature: parasitized natural enemies. Just a reminder, parasitoids develop internally on their host, usually killing it. This particular case of parasitism, however, is atypical in that the host does not die
Image courtesy of Maure et al. 2011
The victim of the story is the common Pink Lady Beetle, Coleomegilla maculata, affectionately called C-mac in some circles. C. maculata is a generalist predator, feeding on aphid species and other small soft bodied insects. I’m not surprised to see many of them in the onion fields. In this case, a parasitic wasp, Dinocampus coccinellae, lays a single egg inside its beetle host. Rather than killing the host, the wasp larva emerges and spins its pupal casing around the legs of the ladybug, keeping it in place. Thereby, providing its own bodyguard to protect it from predation and hyperparasitism (parasitoids that parasitize other parasitoids…that’s a lot of parasitism). This article was just published online about the system. Pretty cool!
Image courtesy of Stippen.nl
Sunday night dinner was a celebration of Greek food, Greek movies, a farewell to a great housemate, and an unexpected event.
In the beginning, it was a fairly normal evening. A wasp was flying around, doing it’s wasp thing, and landed on a chair. Fear not, soon to be Doctor Princess Marie! This wasp is mostly harmless, unlike the pesky yellow jackets and hornets that would like to join you for a picnic. So we let it be and eventually it flew off.
But alas! Minutes later it returned and reared its pesky, large and beautifully blue iridescent head. After a few closer observations of its strange motions and careful examination of its back end, I realized it was ovipositing on the chair! You can see the egg on the arm rest just below the tip of the ovipositor below.
What excitement and discussion of host choice and explanation of oviposition, the process of laying eggs. Go figure, the entomologist of the house would get excited. But the others appreciated the natural event as well. I’m pretty sure that we used “oviposition” in practically every sentence afterwards. In true entomologist fashion, I collected and froze the wasp for identification and for my collection. If only all my pinned insects had a story to go with them…
Special thanks to Jason for his fortuitous photography, Marie for diligent attention to insects on the porch, and Trevor for the delicious reason we were outside to witness this event. Still working to ID the little thing, but I will let you know when I figure it out.