Then it lands and you realize it's neither.
It's a bee.
The insects buzzing in our catmint last weekend were wool-carder bees, Anthidium manicatum (Linnaeus), as identified by several UC Davis entomologists: Tom Zavortink of the Bohart Museum of Entomology; native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
Regarding the carder bee, Zavortink teamed with Sandra Shanks, then of the Bohart Museum, to write a scientific note, "Anthidium manicatum (Linnaeus) (Hymnoptera: Megachilidae in California)," published in the July 2008 edition of the journal Pan-Pacific Entomologist.
"The Palaearctic wool-carder bee Anthidium manicatum (Linnaeus, 1758) was introduced into New York state, presumably from Europe, before 1963 (Jaycox 1967)," Zavortink and Shanks wrote. However, it wasn't detected in California until much later. In 2007, an image of a carder bee from Sunnyvale, Santa Clara County, appeared on the Bug Guide website.
The name, carder bee, comes from its behavior of gathering "down" or "fuzz" from leaves to build its nest.
"Anthidium manicatum builds a linear row of cells, each one being lined and partitioned with cottony down 'carded' from hairy leaves," wrote Christopher O'Toole and Anthony Raw in their book, Bees of the World. "The term 'carder' refers to the teasing out or carding of woollen or cotton fiber with a comblike tool. The female of A. manicatum has five sharp teeth on each jaw and these are her carding tools."
The males are very territorial, the three UC Davis entomologists agreed.
Indeed they are.
The males, about the size of honey bees, buzzed furiously around the catmint last weekend. When they spotted an "intruder," such as a honey bee, they hit it with such force (body slam!) that the victim dropped to the ground.
We also observed carding of the leaves and mating. An Indy-500 male grabbed a female foraging on a catmint blossom.
"It appears that carder bees don't mate in flight like the honey bees do," commented Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty.
Zavortink-Shanks and O'Toole-Raw reported that carder bees prefer the downy leaves of such plants as lamb's ear (Stachys lanata).
By the looks of the activity last weekend in our bee friendly yard, it appears that carder bees are also quite fond of catmint (Nepeta) and sage (salvia).
It's often called a "pond damselfly" or a "narrow-winged damselfly."
We spotted this brilliant blue damselfly on a Great Valley gum plant (Grindelia camporum) near the Sciences Laboratory Building at the University of California, Davis.
It's a male coenagrionid damselfly, said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis. She knows her insects: she has seven million specimens in the Bohart (plus a few live ones in the "petting zoo").
The damselfly sparkled like a blue diamond as it foraged on the gum plant.
An entomological treasure, an Odonato gem, a sliver of blue in a thicket of green.
Honey bee research at the University of California, Davis, recently received a $900 boost, thanks to artists with a honey of heart—a honey of a heart for the plight of honey bees.
Artists showing their work at the “Bees at The Bee” art show in Sacramento donated a total of $900 from gross sales of $1560 to honey bee research at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis.
“The art work was peered at, pored over, perused, examined, appreciated, loved and admired by hundreds of eyes on Saturday,” said Sacramento artist and art show coordinator Laurelin Gilmore who thought of the bee-themed show as a way to help honey bee research and boost awareness of the declining bee population ravaged by colony collapse disorder (CCD).
“We were applauded and congratulated on every aspect of this little event, and I for one am bursting with pride for having been any part of it.”
The event, sponsored by the Sacramento Bee, drew hundreds of visitors to The Bee’s open courtyard.
“This was a marvelous event, altogether educational and entertaining, greatly benefiting honey bees and our bee research program at UC Davis,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
“Laurelin did a terrific job planning the event, with the support the Sacramento Bee, to support the bees.”
Gilmore invited artists from within a 12-county area to submit their work. Some 60 artists submitted a variety of work, including acrylic paintings, watercolors, pen and ink drawings, metal and paper sculptures, photographs, fused glass plates, pendants, a fleece blanket, crocheted multimedia, collages, monoprint-woodcut, neckpiece, individually painted CDs, and a scrimshaw engraving on a mammoth ivory.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale went to UC Davis honey bee research. Artists grossed $1560, of which $900 “is going directly to the UC Davis bee research,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore praised the artists for their “willingness and eagerness to participate in making my little idea grow so tall.”
“The plight of the honey bees is filtered through each artist in a different way, and the results run the gamut from funny to beautiful to profound,” she said.
The “Bees at The Bee” also included live music, refreshments, and educational information about bees. Scoopy, The Bee’s mascot, handed out chocolate bees.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, displayed a bee observation hive and answered questions about bees, including CCD, the mysterious malady in which adult bees abandon the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, brood and food stores.
Mussen also handed out free samples of Honey Lovers, a new line of candy (fruit chews) by Gimbal’s Fine Candies, San Francisco. Gimbal’s is donating 5 percent of the proceeds from the sale of its Honey Lovers for UC Davis research. Other handouts were from Burt’s Bees, Häagen-Dazs and the Partners for Sustainable Pollination.
Overall, this was a down-to-earth grassroots effort to help the bees, and it blossomed into not only an outstanding art show, but a generous donation to UC Davis for honey bee research.
A tip of the bee veil to Laurelin Gilmore, Pam Dinsmore and the Sacramento Bee for making it all possible.
Honey bees sip nectar from the Mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias wulfenii) planted in our bee friendly garden.
So do flies.
Last weekend several flies flashing colors as brilliant as those blue morpho butterflies landed on the evergreen shrub.
It wasn't your basic green bottle fly. No, indeed.
This fly was the European blue bottle fly, Calliphora vicinia, as identified by UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey.
Check out the photos below showing the metallic blue-silvery coloration of the thorax and abdomen.
C. vicinia is known as a "colder-weather bottle fly," prevalent in early spring and fall when temperatures are relatively cool, about 55-75 Fahrenheit. It lays its eggs in dead bodies and sometimes inside infected wounds in healthy tissue. It's a fly species of significant forensic importance.So here was this blue bottle fly on green blossoms.
The fly was gathering some quick energy, a sugar high.
The museum houses some seven million specimens.
And that includes...drum roll...the European blue bottle fly.
If you see a patch of California native wildflowers known as "Tidy Tips," look closely.
The yellow daisylike flower with white petals (Layia platyglossa) may yield a surprise visitor.
You may see an assassin.
An assassin bug.
A member of the family Reduviidae, this is a long-legged, beady-eyed beneficial insect that stalks its prey and snatches it with its forelegs, somewhat like a praying mantis. It conquers its victim with a squirt of deadly venom from its beak (the collective term for its piercing, sucking mouthparts).
Once it has immobilized its prey, the assassin sucks the bodily contents, like a milkshake slurped through a straw.
The assassin bug, true to its name, ambushes, attacks and captures other insects, such as aphids, flies, crickets, mosquitoes, beetles, caterpillars and "sometimes a hapless bee," said Bohart senior museum scientist Steve Heydon.One thing about the Zelus assassin bug--it does not fly very fast. In fact, it totally ignored the camera poked close to its protruding eyes.
The camera neither looked like or acted like a predator or prey.