The lady beetle, aka ladybug, was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
We don't know how she managed to get tangled in the cellar spider's web or why the cellar spider opted to have her for dinner instead waiting for a tasty honey bee, a nutritious leafcutter bee or a plump bumble bee.
Nevertheless, we came upon this predator-prey attack in our backyard. It was too late to save the ladybug.
Ordinarily, the ladybug's bright red coloration serves as a "warning" to predators. Plus, ladybugs are known to ooze a foul-tasting chemical that tastes so bad that predators leave them alone.
"The bright colors of many coccinellids discourage some potential predators from making a meal of them," according to Wikipedia. "This phenomenon is called aposematism and works because predators learn by experience to associate certain prey phenotypes with a bad taste. A further defense known as 'Reflex bleeding' exists in which an alkaloid toxin is exuded through the joints of the exoskeleton, triggered by mechanical stimulation (such as by predator attack) in both larval and adult beetles, deterring feeding."
So why the cellar spider's unusual menu choice? "The spider's 'taste buds' probably weren't very good," quipped a UC Davis scientist.
The aphids know how to plan a family reunion.
Grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, mom and pop, brothers and sisters, cousins and more cousins--they're all gathering to feed on the lush growth of the spring roses, the juicy shoots, the tender buds. And they multiply. You think rabbits multiply fast? Try aphids.
A telltale sign of their presence: Crumpled white carcasses and leaves coated with sticky honeydew.
A strong blast of water and the aphids are gone.
Well, at least some of them.
We watched a sole ladybug, aka ladybeetle, feasting on an aphid buffet on Easter Sunday. So many aphids, and so much time. All the aphids on her menu were green, but they come in yellow, brown and black, too.
The aphids crawled along the rose stems, bumping their cornicles or tubelike structures into one another, unaware of the looming red predator in their midst.
Until it was too late.
People aren't the only ones favoring fava beans.
Fava beans growing in a raised bed in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, are attracting honey bees, European paper wasps, lacewings, ladybugs, aphids and carpenter bees.
We saw all six insects on a trip to the haven last Friday.
While the honey bees and carpenter bees gathered nectar, the European paper wasps, lacewings and the ladybugs searched for prey. The ladybugs were also searching for mates.
The half-acre bee friendly garden, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the central campus, is open year around from dawn to dusk. Admission is free. Visitors can conduct their own self-guided tours by following the signs and reading the plant labels. Groups that want a guided tour (the cost is $4 per person) can contact Christine Casey at email@example.com.
Meanwhile, life is good in the fava beans.
It was a pomegranate kind of day. Red, bright and wonderful.
The papery-thin reddish blossoms in our yard draw both beneficial and pestiferous insects. Honey bees are there for the pollen and nectar; ladybugs are there for the pesky aphids. Occasionally we see another pest, the spotted cucumber beetle (which prefers cucurbits).
The pomegranate, an ancient fruit native to Persia (what is now Iran), is a long-lived tree. Indeed, some pomegranate trees in Europe are more than 200 years old. One in our yard spans 85 years.
Spanish settlers introduced the pomegranate into California in 1769, and today, the state leads the nation in the production of pomegranates. Agricultural statistics show that in 2010, California's San Joaquin Valley alone blossomed with an estimated 22,000 acres of pomegranates. That's about 200 trees per acre.
One of the primary pomegranate varieties is "Wonderful." The honey bees and ladybugs think so, too!
On a visit last week to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, we saw a paper wasp (genus Mischocyttarus) foraging in the fava beans with assorted ladybugs, aphids and ants.
This particular genus is characterized by a long, narrow petiole between the thorax and abdomen. Talk about narrow! We wouldn't be surprised if the term, "wasp waist" (referring to women girdling their waists in the 19th and 20th century to look "becoming") originated with Mischocyttarus.
The meaning of Mischocyttarus? It comes from two Greek words, mischos meaning "stalk" and kyttaros meaning "cell of a honeycomb."
Its family is Vespidae (yellowjackets, paper wasps, and hornets; and potter, mason and pollen wasps) and its subfamily is Polistinae (paper wasps).
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, is full of surprises throughout the year as insects share the garden meant for pollinators, especially honey bees.
The haven is open from dawn to dusk for self-guided tours; no admission is charged. The Department of Entomology is now offering guided tours ($4 per person).