Tabatha Yang and her six-month-old son, Karoo, were sitting on their lawn last Sunday at their West Davis home, when she saw red. Literally.
One minute they were enjoying the springlike weather, and the next minute his head was covered with bright red dots. Looking closer, she spotted a tiny insect in his eye, which she quickly removed.
Then her legs began to welt and itch.
They had just encountered no-see-ums, tiny Valley Black Gnats that feed on blood.
“The adults are emerging in large numbers now and need blood so residents need to beware of grassy areas that cover alkaline clay soils,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor entomology at UC Davis. “These insects are ferocious biters. Even though they don’t spread any diseases, they are sufficiently annoying to keep people indoors in some areas of California.”
The Bohart Museum is now fielding scores of calls and emails.
“These no-see-ums are smaller than fleas and have a supreme itch,” said Yang, Bohart Museum education and outreach coordinator, who knew immediately what they were.
The biting gnats are particularly troublesome along the west side of the Sacramento Valley, including Davis and Woodland. “They’re often in grassy areas, such as in parks and on golf courses on the west side of California’s Central Valley,” Kimsey said. “When the soil begins to dry and cracks develop, the adults emerge.” The complete life cycle from egg to adult takes about two years.
The no-see-ums (Leptoconops torrens) belong to the family Ceratopogonidae and are about 1/16-inch long. They are so tiny they could pass through window screens, but they don’t, Kimsey said. However, they can and do slip beneath loose clothing, unnoticed, to get a blood meal.
Like mosquitoes, only the female no-see-ums bite. The insects breed when the weather warms in the spring, usually in May and June, and they remain a pest for several weeks, Kimsey said. They need a blood meal to complete their reproductive cycle.
They also bite domestic and wild animals and birds.
The females inject saliva into the skin, which pools the blood just beneath the surface, resulting in a small red dot that becomes excruciatingly itchy. A single bite can welt into a one-or two-inch diameter spot, which lasts about two weeks.
Kimsey cautions people not to scratch the welts, as scratching makes the itchy bites last twice as long and can lead to infected sores.
To avoid being bitten, Kimsey recommends that you limit exposure by not sitting long in places where they are likely to occur, or where you’ve heard of problem areas. “Move quickly through the area.”
“Repellents,” she added, “aren’t effective against these flies.”
No-see-um, 70 times life size. (Illustration by Lynn Kimsey)
Even after five days, the bites are still visible. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What a match--honey bees and pomegranate blossoms.
Watching the golden bees forage amid the brilliant red blossoms in the late afternoon is a delight to see, especially when the sun backlights them.
The ancient fruit, native to Iran, is one of the world's first cultivated fruits. Thankfully, it is now "trendy" in California, with some 30,000 acres of pomegranates in production. We treasure its ruby-red kernels, tart flavor, and high antioxidant content. Since ancient times, the fruit has symbolized health and fertility. It's been said that Adam and Eve weren't tempted by an apple in the Garden of Eden, but by a pomegranate. In Egypt, the pomegranate was known as "The Fruit of Kings."
Spanish settlers introduced the pomegranate tree to California in 1769. The honey bees came later: 1853.
But when you think about it, honey bees and pomegranates have been together for millions of years--just not in California.
The pomegranate tree in our yard is 86 years old and has seen generations of bees come and go.
A promenade in the pomegranates...
A backlit honey bee heads for a pomegranate blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Caught in flight, a honey bee makes a beeline to a pomegranate blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The nectar of the gods. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Many parts of the Sierra Nevada have not burned in more than 100 years, a significant departure from a natural fire cycle that would characterize a healthy forest, according to Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in the Central Sierra...
The critically imperiled plant called Beaked Tracyina (Tracyina rostrata) is only known from about 16 locations found in Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Sonoma, and Trinity counties. Four of those sites are located on the UC Hopland Research & Extension Center. The CA Rare Plant Ranking for Tracyina is 1B.2 - meaning that it is rare, threatened, or endangered in CA and elsewhere, and is fairly endangered in California. Well, in this case it is also endemic to California.
This plant has a history of "disappearing" from local known sites ... or at least plants cannot be found in subsequent years after discovery. The plant can grow to 30 cm in height, but recent years' monitoring of one location at HREC has shown that the population persists at one location each year, but the size and number of plants may be dwarfed in dry springs.
This year, due to the fact that HREC has had only about 5 inches of precipitation since January 1, the Tracyina plants are extremely small, and very easily missed. You can see in the photos that the plants are only about 3 to 4 cm in height. It is literally like finding a "needle in a haystake" since, this year, the plants are only about the size of needles.
A spider web is one of nature's most marvelous wonders. It's art, it's architecture, and it's engineering.
The silk is as beautiful as it is deceiving. It's 10 times stronger than Kevlar; as sticky as cotton candy covered with honey; and as flexible as a classical ballet dancer.
It's also a restaurant of sorts when the sticky strands nab unsuspecting prey. Unlike humans sitting down at a restaurant to order a meal from the menu, a spider never knows what's on the menu until it "magically" appears. It could be a honey bee, sweat bee, carpenter bee, spotted cucumber beetle, ladybug, lacewing, crane fly, another spider or some other critter.
We saw this newly woven wheel web on our front porch this morning. As the sun rose, the web glowed, glistened and glittered. An orbweaver at work..setting the dinner table...
The intricate web made us think of E. B. White's children's novel, "Charlotte's Web." Charlotte, a barn spider, kept writing messages such as "Some Pig" to try to save the life of a pig named Wilbur.
The farmer got the message, but in the real world, the spider's message is not about saving a life, but entrapment.
Backlit by the morning sun, a spider web glows, glistens and glitters. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A spider's dinner, all wrapped and ready to eat: a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)