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Hunters and Gatherers

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Two Killers and a Charmer

With the insect season winding down, the imported species of praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) are now mature and can occasionally be seen flying. Insects only get fully developed wings in their final molt. Although there are some exceptions, mantises aren't among them. Flying they look like less agile dragonfly. The four wings and size are about right but there are no quick turns going after prey. They fly to get some place. Their hunting is done by ambush, not flight. Mantises are always photogenic. So when one flew overhead and landed in my front yard, I got out a camera.

This species comes in either tan or green. This specimen was one of the tan ones. Mantids have the unnerving ability to turn their head and look directly at you. This one, though, had something unique about it. Its eyes were gray. Checking my image archive all the other ones I've seen all had eye color that matched their body. Why this one was different is a mystery to me.

Another large killer with wings that was out this week is the robber fly (family Asilidae). As lethal as the mantises hiding in the vegetation are, the robber is a killer on the wing — taking prey as large or even larger than itself. Although not aggressive toward us, they can deliver what I understand is a very painful bite if mishandled.

Watching the Amaryllis belladonna, aka naked ladies, in my front yard, I noted a moderate-sized, extremely quick, starkly black and white striped bee. It was so agile it took a lot of exposures to get a few good images. Later, the photos showed it to be an urbane digger bee (Anthophora urbana). A solitary species, these little bees dig holes in the ground and line them with a waterproof material they secrete to protect their offspring as they develop.

Locals Among the Invaders

Finding myself with an uncommitted day and the Himalayan berries in season, I went blackberry picking along some of my favorite logging roads. I did OK but the best part of the day was wandering through patches of Queen Anne's lace, cat's ear, pampas grass, Scotch broom and bird's foot trefoil. One and all thriving, invading alien species. Many of these bloom later in the season than the locals, providing food to many species of insects and prolonging their season as well.

There were several parasitoid tachnid flies feeding on the Queen Anne's lace, which in turn attracted some large bald faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata). You could hear the deep bass note of the wings as this, the largest species of the yellow jacket family, flew between the flower heads often bumbling into them. I wonder if this is a "flushing behavior," like a bird dog scaring up quail to be taken on the wing.

A much higher pitched buzz alerted me to a small bee hovering nearby. I hesitated to unlimber my camera expecting it to flit away momentarily but it did not, so I got out the camera and took shots at various angles. Finally, it pivoted looking directly into the camera lens. I suspect this was a male leafcutter bee displaying to attract a mate and saw his reflection on the glass as a challenge.

A buffalo leafhopper put in an appearance, as well as a praying mantis and several little Acmon blue butterflies.

Although many folks decry introduced species of weeds, on that day, in that place, they supported an active population of both local and introduced species.

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