I forgot to mention that we spent some time messing about in the honeybee hive last weekend, cleaning up some comb and making sure everything was ok. We took out two full bars of honey for ourselves, still leaving plenty for the bees this winter. We also installed a mite-away strip, a sort of pad that looks like a large feminine hygiene product, filled with formic acid (found in ants). This was to kill off any varroa mite that might be hanging about in the hive. It’s an organic product that we use occasionally for this purpose. For more information about this product and my opinion on treating mites, you can find my 2016 blog post about that here.
Anyway, I went back in the hive yesterday to remove the strip, and came across the spider above, making a very good living in the back of the hive (the unused portion), catching bees that were sneaking out of our not-very-tight seal with the follow board. I removed her, and another spider also enjoying the bee feast, and put them in the leaf litter nearby. Then I made sure our follow board was good and tight against the bars, to keep those bees safe and warm. Hopefully the spiders will now stay out of there.
I like spiders, I’m a fan of what they do for the ecosystem, but I CERTAINLY DO NOT LIKE coming across them by surprise!
The spider at the top of this blog is, I think, a false black widow (Steatoda grossa). They are very common here in California and are extremely non-aggressive (I poked at her a bit in order to take her photo and she was as calm as can be). I wanted to show it to you because it is often falsely identified as a black widow. Of course black widows have a very poisonous bite, but the false ones do not, so there is no need to be afraid of them. Though as you would expect, I don’t think you should be afraid of the poisonous black widows, either, but I realize that most people are. I am not afraid of them, but I’ve definitely been known to squeak a bit when I see them. No, I do not scream. Yelp, maybe. Ok, maybe they scare me a little…
The other spider is a common wolf spider, I believe - harmless to humans unless continually provoked, and even then the bite is mild. They do not spin webs but hunt on the move.
We have had so many mantids in our garden this year, and it’s been a lot of fun to watch them. They are also helpful predators, albeit non-selective ones; they feed on all the prey we have flying around regardless of whether ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ They don’t discriminate. They have amazing eyes and an amazing sense of sight. Above is a mantid egg case, tucked in on the passion vine trellis. Clearly its mother decided that this was a good location to have babies. I’ll keep a close eye on it, and hopefully catch them hatching and share that with you.
Meanwhile, the Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are starting to pupate, and I’m finding them hanging all over - on passion vine tendrils, on the trellis holding them, and as above, on an irrigation pipe which is tied to the trellis. I can’t wait to watch this process unfold. Hopefully they won’t hatch until spring, but I guess if the weather stays warm during the day, they might hatch earlier.
Finally, I found this enormous black fly looking and acting like a carpenter bee on the zinnias. After spending some time researching, I’ve decided it is a Mexican Cactus Fly (Copestylum mexicanum), a type of Syrphid fly. These lay their eggs in rotting cacti, and we do have some cactus around here in various home gardens. However the adults eat nectar, which clearly this one was. Isn’t it cool looking? At times, it had a metallic blue sheen and I thought it quite beautiful. (My bug prof, imminently patient with me even though I am no longer his student, just emailed me that I was correct in my ID.)
I must say it’s hard to get my homework done when I can just zip out to the garden and look at bugs. A constant and very interesting distraction! Soon it’ll be so cold that all of these insects will stay tucked away, so it’s good to appreciate them while we can.