'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse...
--Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863)
In our house, nothing is stirring, thanks be to the cat. Xena the Warrior Princess does not like anything stirring. Even the dog annoys here.
But in the yard, quite a few insects were stirring on the Passiflora (passion flower vine) this afternoon. We planted it last summer to attract Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae). Passiflora is their host plant. In the late summer, we saw the adults mating and an occasional female laying eggs. Then the caterpillars appeared and began munching on the leaves.
Today we spotted about eight Gulf Fritillary caterpillars soaking up what was left of the sun. Also on board was a Gulf Fritillary chrysalis, but it was not stirring.
An overwintering Harlequin bug wandered around looking lost--but we're sure it was up to something. Last summer its ancestors were enjoying our lemon cucumbers, planted nearby.
As butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis says about the Harlequin bugs: "They prefer Crucifers (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, etc.) but are not limited to 'em!"
If there ever were a bug just perfect for Halloween, that would be the orange and black Harlequin cabbage bug, Murgantia histrionica, also known as a calico bug or fire bug.
Its brilliant, distinctive colors bring back memories of a circus clown. Not so surprisingly, "histrio" is Greek for clown or jester.
We spotted this little bug foraging on cabbage in a Benicia garden. It's known as a Harlequin cabbage bug because it feeds on the juices of cabbage, kale, turnip, cauliflower, broccoli, mustard, and other cruciferous plants. You may also have seen it on such plants as beet, bean, grape, squash, potato, squash, sunflower and ragweed.
At first glance, some folks think it's some kind of beetle, but it isn't. It's in the stink bug family, Pentatomidae.
We imagine that the 41st President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, would gladly share his broccoli with the Harlequin cabbage bug. He's the President who publicly announced a ban on broccoli served on Air Force One and at the White House.
"I do not like broccoli," he told the news media back in March of 1990. "And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli." (U.S. News and World Report).
Score: Harlequin cabbage bug, 1. President George H. W. Bush, 0.
It boasts striking colors, but you don't want this bug anywhere near your garden.
This is a harlequin bug, Murgantia histronica, as identified by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
What it does is suck the juices out of your cabbage, cauliflower, collards, mustard, Brussels sprouts, turnip, kohlrabi, radish and other crucifers. You might also find it on your tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, okra, beans, asparagus and beets. And on fruit trees, fruit crops and weeds, plant scientists say.
We saw scores of these harlequin bugs last weekend in a weed patch bordering the Benicia Marina.
They belong to the stink bug family (Pentatomidae) and like the sting bugs, these harlequin bugs could be coming to a garden near you.