Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Garden Residents

Continuing with my fascination with bugs in the garden, here are three recent sightings.

First, I have noticed a distinct absence of bumblebees this year. I emailed a local expert, James Hung ( and he said they have suffered a population decline due to the drought. Since bumblebees only live for a season, and they don't stock up a reserve of honey like honeybees do, a few drought years in a row with poor flower production can really set them back. I believe I have only seen two of them this season.

On the positive side, I have been seeing some other kinds of native bees such as this Sweat Bee (Agapostemon) shown below. They don't look like typical bee because they are a shiny metallic green color. The one below is collecting nectar and pollen from a Blair's Wire Lettuce (Munzothamnus blairii), a Channel Islands endemic. These bees build their nests in the ground in a quasi-colonial fashion. Several females may share an entrance but each one has her own nesting chamber. For this reason I try to leave some open dirt for them to use. One of the drawbacks of using heavy mulch everywhere is that these guys don't have any place to nest. I'm glad to see that there are more of them around.

Another summer resident is the big, red dragonfly. I think it is a Flame Skimmer (Libelliulidae) although it's hard to be sure because there are several big red ones that are very similar. One reason I think this is a Flame Skimmer is the description of the way the female deposits her eggs in the water. I have observed this in my pond just about every summer. But one thing that has always puzzled me is where do these dragonflies go when they are not at the pond? The male shows up at the pond about 10 am, patrols vigilantly for several hours, and leaves around 3 pm when the sun starts going down behind the neighbor's house. 

Mr. Flame Skimmer keeping a sharp, compound eye on his pond
The female (she is more rust-red color) shows up only occasionally, mates with the male and deposits her eggs in the pond by tail-dipping. So where does he/she go the rest of the time? 

I finally got a partial answer to this. One afternoon I was going out the front door when I saw Mrs. Flame Skimmer zooming around and finally landing on a Matilija Poppy stalk. It's the first time I have seen either of them away from the pond. Since then I have seen her several times in the front yard, always in the afternoon. I don't know where she goes in the early morning. I've looked for her in the front yard and she isn't there. I still don't know where he goes at any time.

My last garden resident for this month is a "woman of the night". She was found one evening by our neighbors, building a nest between the telephone pole and their mailboxes, and they told me about her.

It's difficult to tell from this photo because there isn't anything to help with scale, but this is a really large spider. The body is probably an inch across. It was very tricky getting this photo of her. I think she is probably a member of the orb weaver family Araneidae. She will get her fill of Junebugs around here, and hopefully she will have a big batch of babies for next season.

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