Archive for June, 2008

Today we made a discovery that actually started my skin crawling.

Phil bumped our Purpleleaf Sand Cherry and several bright green critters came flying out. What were they all doing on our bush? It didn’t take long to identify them as lacewings, whose larvae are quite fond of aphids. Here’s a picture of one of our lacewings, with plenty of aphids in the shot as well (all the green spots on the undersides of the leaves, and check out the nice fat one on the stem).

Chrysoperla rufilabris

It’s the aphids that are creeping me out. It didn’t help that I was sticking myself into the bush to try to get pictures. Now I keep imagining that I’ve got aphids all over my body.

Of course, where there are aphids, there are ladybugs. Sure enough, I captured the likeness of this one heading towards a leaf covered with aphids. I believe it to be a Hippodamia convergens (although I’m not 100% certain of this identification. Any help is appreciated.)

  • An adult ladybug can eat up to 100 aphids in a day, or 5,000 in its lifetime.
  • They will play dead when faced with a predator.
  • They produce a bad smell from fluid from leg joints, probably as another way to protect themselves from being eaten.
  • Ladybugs hibernate in the winter.
  • Plants that attract ladybugs include cilantro, yarrow, coreopsis, cosmos, and dandelions.

I can’t resist sharing one more photo. Here’s our same ladybug, on a different leaf. This shows the honeydew that is coating the plant. That’s the sugary waste left by aphids. Yum!

Some tidbits about honeydew:

  • Certain species of honey bees collect it to make honey, which is prized in Europe and Asia for its medicinal value!
  • Ants also collect and even milk honeydew. The ants, in turn, help the aphids by chasing away ladybugs.
  • Adult lacewings feed on honeydew. (Note that it is only their larvae that eat the aphids themselves.)
  • Honeydew can lead to sooty mold. This site offers information on identifying it, and a recipe for cleaning it from plastic or painted surfaces.

So what do I plan to do about my aphid invasion? Nothing. So long as I see the ladybugs and lacewings in the vicinity, I will trust them to take care of it.  


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Itty Bitty Spider

Actually, this spider’s body is about a quarter of an inch long. I took this photo in fading light against our flagstone patio, and that little spider could really run! Thus, the mediocre pic.

However, I believe this to be an Araneus diadematus, or Cross or Garden Spider, introduced from Europe. It is perfectly harmless, unless of course you’re a tasty insect.

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Broke Black Beetle

I found this critter, or rather what’s left of it, in the lawn but placed it in the wheelbarrow for photographing. Looks like someone enjoyed a snack of the majority of its body. Wings are just over one inch long.

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A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly.

I have been working in the yard a lot lately. On Sunday, I figure I deserve a little break so off I go to drink a pint. Then, I get a phone call from Phil.

“We have a bee problem,” he informs me. Gasp! A branch laying on the lawn is absolutely covered with bees. It seems that the honey bees from the Big Tree are swarming!  

“Take pictures!” is my first response. Instictively I guess that they won’t be around for long. And sure enough, by the time I make it home, there are just a few bees hanging around the branch.

That’ll teach me to leave the property!!

Luckily, Phil got some good documentation of the incident.

By Phil

My father theorized that the bees were splitting the colony. Research backs him entirely. It seems that this is the method of colony reproduction.

The University of Nebraska answered a lot of my questions:

What makes a honey bee colony swarm?

 Overcrowding and congestion in the nest are factors which predispose colonies to swarm. The presence of an old queen and a mild winter also contribute to the development of the swarming impulse. Swarming can be controlled by a skilled beekeeper; however, not all colonies live in hives and have a human caretaker.

 When do honey bees swarm?

The tendency to swarm is usually greatest when bees increase their population rapidly in late spring and early summer. [May and June]

Iowa State University offers this information:

Honey bee swarms may contain several hundred to several thousand worker bees, a few drones and one queen. Swarming bees fly around briefly and then cluster on a tree limb, shrub or other object. Clusters usually remain stationary for an hour to a few days, depending on weather and the time needed to find a new nest site by scouting bees. When a suitable location for the new colony, such as a hollow tree, is found the cluster breaks up and flies to it.

All sources stated that swarming bees are not dangerous, for a couple of reasons. One is that while they’re swarming, the bees don’t have a home that they feel like defending. Also, while swarming they don’t have any access to food stores, so they eat right before leaving, thus their ability to sting is reduced.

Since our bees moved on in a couple of hours (or less!) I assume the scout bees found a suitable location for the new colony, but I don’t know where that is. And there are still bees in the Big Tree.


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