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Backyard BioBlitz – Week of July 2

Backyard BioBlitzThis was a fun week for the BioBlitz, with lots of activity in the yard.  For starters, we had a kind of dragonfly swarm, which I never got a clear photo of but which was fun to observe.  You can imagine there were hundreds of tiny little bugs milling around, and the dragonflies were continuously moving and catching them in the air.  At the time, I didn’t know what they were, but I assume it was a big group of wandering gliders.  Guess we’ll check in on that in early July 2013 and see if I was right.

The netting on our tomato plants created a few good photo opportunities as some bugs found themselves inside and either struggled or chose to relax for a while.  Falling into the latter category was this pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos), which let me stay very close to it for about five minutes.  You can even see in the photo on the right where it gets its name, with the distinctive white moon shape in the middle of its wing.

So while the netting was helpful here, it would have been even nicer had it been remotely effective in keeping the birds from feasting on the tomatoes.  It was high drought time, and they were after liquid wherever they could get it.

Pearl crescent

I saw many of these tiny egg groupings before ever realizing which bug they belonged to.  Then one day, the eggs started hatching and I was delighted to see a bunch of baby assassin bugs, with their signature red eyes, emerging.  I love the “ghost bug” in the left image where one has left its skin behind (called an exuvium).  Go forth and police the garden, assassins!
Assassin bug eggs and nymphs

It took me a few sightings to figure out that this intimidating creature was the cicada killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus).  It zoomed past my head a few times, and the glimpses I caught of it were fairly terrifying.  At first I thought it was a hornet, but then I started hearing about this wasp making appearances around the city from fellow freaked-out people on Facebook.  I never saw it actually kill a cicada, but I did see it exhibiting its characteristic burrowing behavior, digging underneath our basketball goal and setting up a dirt nest for itself in one of the flowerbeds.  In this species, the females do most of the work; they’re the ones who go out and find cicadas, and they often have trouble taking them back to the nest because the cicadas are twice their size.  Once they make it home, though, they actually lay their eggs on the cicadas, which become food for the larvae once they hatch.
Cicada killer wasp

These are just three random garden inhabitants I encountered this week.  On the left, a baby grasshopper; in the middle, one of those sinister leaf-footed bugs (I probably disposed of it after photographing it, because it’s an enemy of the gardener); and on the right, a citrus flatid planthopper (Metcalfa pruinosa).  Its common name refers to the fact that it’s often spotted on citrus plants (even though it likes many others as well), but I think its scientific name is more interesting.  When something is pruinose, it’s covered in a fine white powder.  You may have seen grapes that look kind of frosted; those grapes are pruinose, with an almost waxy coating.  This planthopper definitely lives up to its name–the others I’ve seen in our yard look like leaves moreso than anything else, and this one looks like it just had an encounter with a dust bunny.Random bugs

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