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Tuesday April 15, 2014
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Signs of Spring

Sweat Bee on Native San Diego Sunflower

Sweat Bee on Native San Diego Sunflower

♪ ♫ “Spring is in the air . . .” ♫

In Southern California, one can always tell spring is on the way – right about mid-March.

The honey bees are buzzing between new blossoms, native California chaparral flowers are in bloom, Black Phoebes and other birds are courting each other, new nests are under construction or last years are being remodeled.

Oh, and the ants begin to appear, marching one by one . . .

Birds in Spring – Black Phoebe

(Sayornis nigricans)

Every year for the last four years, I know spring has definitely arrived when I hear little tiny chirps above my studio window.

Before I moved in, a pair of Black Phoebes had already established themselves under the eaves. How many years has this same nest been rearing new generations of phoebes? I have no idea but I am happy they let me share my humble abode with them.Black Phoebes are the sweetest of birds.

All dressed up in their tuxedos, both parents take turns sitting on the eggs until the nestlings hatch. Father and mother phoebe may leave the nest to catch flies, gnats, and other flying insects but they are always nearby to watch over and guard their nestlings.

When relocating, the male Black Phoebe searches out nest sites to show to his female phoebe.

He hovers over an area for a few seconds to see if the new neighborhood suits her. If not, he keeps flying to new locations until he has found one she likes.

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebes are flycatchers – natural pest control agents!

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Wednesday February 19, 2014
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Death’s-head Hawkmoth – A Case of Misrepresentation

The Death’s-head Hawkmoth is also known as a “bee robber” but it’s not the bee he’s after . . . it’s the honey! The name “Death’s-head” is derived from the image of a skull and bones on the back of the thorax. There are three species of Death’s-head hawkmoths that belong to the family Sphingidae. Large in size, their wingspans can reach a whopping 5 inches!

Death's-head hawkmoth

Death’s-head Hawkmoth (Acherontia atropos) Male

This particular moth has been featured in art and film, including the poster of a famous blockbuster chiller, “The Silence of the Lambs.” Because of the skull-like image, the death’s-head hawkmoth has been associated with evil and the supernatural but in fact, the moth is quite harmless (unless you are a potato plant or beehive, then your leaves would get eaten and your honey nicked). Some cultures believe that if the moth flies into your house, it brings bad luck and death or misfortune are sure to follow.

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Tuesday February 11, 2014
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Love Bugs and other Amorous Wildlife

“♫ ♪ ♫ Love is in the air . . . Let me tell you about the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees . . . ♫ ♪ ♫”

February is the month of love. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, what better time to celebrate the love life of insects – although one might ask “What’s love got to do with it?” We won’t discuss bees because – well . . . drones (male bees) are a bit unlucky in love. After the nuptial flight they end up falling to their . . . instead, let’s look at a few insects and other wildlife that actually court each other and even mate for life!

Red-shouldered bugs mating

What happens when two red-shouldered bugs mate? Little red baby bugs!

The Red-shoulder Bug Mating Ritual

Watching red-shouldered bugs mate is quite amusing. They can be seen on sidewalks during spring and summer leading one another around. Female red-shouldered bugs are larger than males and have shorter wings. When mating, the two “connect” their rear ends and crawl forwards and backwards, “taking turns.” Pregnant females deposit their eggs, usually nearby under a shrub or tree. The nymphs are completely red in color when they hatch, and then they go through various stages over the summer until they reach adulthood at which time they gain their blue-black wings.

How to Attract a Female Lizard

Western Fence Lizard

Western Fence Lizard, A.K.A. “Blue-belly”

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Wednesday January 8, 2014
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Bugs in Your Food

- On Purpose!

(Note: some of the photos are graphic in their content regarding bugs)

Do you eat yogurt with strawberries?  How about pink grapefruit juice, or red velvet cake?  Most likely you are consuming bugs……a particular scale insect to be exact.  It’s called “cochineal,” harvested in South America and Mexico from the prickly pear cactus.

Flowers of the Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia phaeacantha).

Now your food manufactures don’t come right out and say that cochineal bugs are used as an ingredient for adding red and purple coloring…..instead, they give it names like “Carmine, Crimson Lake, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470 or E120.” Using bugs for food coloring doesn’t just stop at yogurts and juices from the supermarket; a famous coffee chain, you know the one, has recently changed their “natural coloring” in their strawberry smoothies.

List of ingredients on yogurt with carmine

A name-brand strawberry yogurt “Colored with Carmine,” cochineal insects.

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Friday December 13, 2013
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Inspiration from the World of Insects – An Artist’s Palette

Many insects are a rainbow of colors just waiting to be emulated in art, fashion, and interior design.  It may seem that the “Universe” has arranged in them the oddest color combinations but somehow they do work.  Are you an artist wondering what colors to use in your next painting or drawing?  Or maybe you plan on redecorating and you’re trying to figure out which colors go well together for a particular room.  Take a moment to look around and you’ll see there is help and inspiration right in front of you, an entire palette of color combinations to choose from – within the world of insects.

Meadowhawk Dragonfly

Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly – Sympetrum corruptum

Watercolor of Desert scene by Donna Walker

Desert scene on U.S. Highway 10 between California and Arizona, utilizing warm hues from the variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly.

All the colors of the color wheel are found in nature. Most of us think of insects as pests but many are amazingly beautiful, just like the birds. But with insects, the female is often just as lovely as the male bird is gorgeous.
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Wednesday November 6, 2013
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Praying Mantis – Patience and Wisdom

California Praying Mantis

California Mantis (Stagmomantis californica)

The Praying Mantis

From whence arrived the praying mantis?
From outer space, or lost Atlantis?
glimpse the grin, green metal mug
at masks the pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthopterous* also carnivorous,
And faintly whisper, Lord deliver us.

~ Ogden Nash

Follow Mantis

To “Follow Mantis” means to honor your true nature, your highest self – and let it direct you. When a praying mantis comes to visit, its message may be one of a spiritual nature. Mantis asks that we take a moment to pause, reflect, and become aware of our surroundings. Has life gotten a little out of hand? Feeling overwhelmed? Gaze into the eyes of a praying mantis and let him/her teach you how to still the mind and go within.

Close-up of the eyes of a mantis

It is said that when gazing into the eyes of the Mantis - one can feel the presence of God.

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Monday September 23, 2013
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Robber Flies – The Great Pretenders

This morning I stood in the doorway of Gerry’s office and declared:

“Gerry, I am very disappointed in the animal kingdom, specifically insects!”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“Well…..remember that picture I took of what I thought was a furry,
sweet-looking mimic Bumblebee fly? Turns out it’s a garden monster!!!”
“Why, what does it do?”
“It lurks on the leaves of plants watching for innocent honey bees
(all the while pretending to be a bee itself), then catches the bee with its strong forelegs, paralyzes it and sucks all the juices out – leaving nothing but an empty bee shell!”
“Well, that’s how nature is….”
“I know, I know….don’t even get me started on Tarantula Hawks!”

Then I went back to my office and started writing about this “Garden Monster” or as my Park Ranger friend Jeff calls them, “the Arnold Schwarzenegger of insects.”

Bumblebee Mimic

Bumblebee Robber Fly (Laphria astur) – The Great Pretender

Bumblebee Mimics

Mimics are great pretenders. This particular mimic above is trying very hard to look like a Bumblebee, not only to deceive unsuspecting honeybees and wasps, which it feeds on, but other would-be predators into thinking it is a real live, Bumblebee – capable of stinging. In actuality, it’s just a fly……a robber fly robbing the life right out of its prey.

Close-up of Bumblebee Robber Fly

Don’t mess with robber flies – “They’ll be back!”

Robber flies are of the family Asilidae (true flies); they have just two wings (and no stinger), whereas wasps and bees have four wings. These mimics are also called “assassin flies”  because they lie in wait until an unsuspecting wasp, bee, butterfly, or beetle passes by, then the bumblebee mimic attacks.  It uses its dagger-like proboscis to cut into the victim’s skeleton and then injects a combination of venom and digestive enzymes.  This enables the robber fly to both paralyze and liquefy the innards of its victim – and then suck them dry.
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Tuesday July 30, 2013
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It is not easy to hire the right person for any job. In the pest control industry, it can be exceptionally difficult to find the right candidate: positive, articulate, hard working, ethical and team oriented. Kia was a great find. Below her picture is a wonderful review we received on this new pest control techncian.

Kia Goode, recently hired pest control technician

Kia Goode, pest control technician

“Hi Gerry,

I am writing to share my experience with your employee, Kia.

I just wanted you to know that in my brief interaction with Kia today, her friendliness and professionalism was excellent, and really appreciated. I usually never arrive home from work early enough to encounter your employees, and I know nothing of the pest control treatment that is actually applied on Heart’s visits. (Until today, I have only known that Hearts was another bill to pay.) Having met Kia today, and having paid attention to the various treatments she applied today, I was impressed.

I just thought you should know that Kia makes a terrific first impression, seems to have a great work ethic, really cares about the customer, and is a great representation of your firm. The employees on the front lines can make or break your relationship with your customer base, and she has certainly cemented ours in the brief time we interacted. She may be relatively new, but she’s a terrific asset to your firm.

(And – my wife Jackie gives Rob very high marks too!)

Kind regards,
—- Inspiration Lane
Escondido, CA 92025
Acct 13524″


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Tuesday May 28, 2013
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Acorns of California and the Acorn Weevil

From wildlife to prehistoric cultures, the acorn has sustained many a life – be it human or critter.  In California, gathering acorns to support life during the harsh winter months is important to many animals, especially Acorn Woodpeckers.  (Not that California has harsh winters but tell that to a Southern Californian and he/she will say, “It really does get chilly…..and, on a cold winter’s morning, there’s even frost on our windshields…….!”)

Male Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker – Melanerpes formicivorus

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Friday April 19, 2013
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Spiders Depicted in Various Cultures

In many cultures worldwide, spiders are considered benevolent creatures that bring happiness, good luck and/or money.  Chinese have a high regard for spiders and call them “good luck” or “happiness spiders” because they descend from heaven above.  In India, it is said that spiders are spread like confetti at weddings!  In Ancient Egypt, the goddess Neith was associated with the spider as the “spinner” and “weaver” of destiny.

Egyptian Goddess Neith – Goddess of Weaving and War

Egyptian Goddess Neith – Goddess of Weaving and War

As a deity, the goddess Neith wove the entire world into being with her loom.  It is said she reweaves the world daily much like a spider that consumes and reweaves its own web.  Arachnida, the spider class in taxonomy, originates from the Greek word Arachne, meaning “spider.”  Arachne, according to Greek myths, was a human very adept at weaving who thought she was a better weaver than the goddess Athena.
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