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Monthly Archives: July 2012

When I find a beetle I don’t recognize, usually the first book I open is Evans and Hogue’s beautiful beetle guide, which is part of the excellent series of California natural history guides from University of California Press.

Of the various beetle books in my library, this one seems to have the most comprehensive section of color photos, with more than 300 nicely composed images.

According to the blurb on the back cover, the book covers 569 of the 8,000 or so species of beetles in California, but almost all of the beetles I’ve found in the last few years can be identified by flipping through the color photos. Unfortunately (and this is my only criticism) the color plates do not include page numbers for the beetles illustrated, which means one must look up the species in the index to find the text description. Oh well, it only takes a moment to find the page.

If you love beetles as much as I do and you live in California (or even if you don’t!) this handy guide might become one of your most valued references.

If you choose to purchase Field Guide to Beetles of California (California Natural History Guides) through the Amazon link in this sentence you will be supporting my ecogarden work by adding a few shiny new pennies to my account balance.

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It lurks among the flowers of the Swiss chard. This assassin bug waits quietly, alert and ready to pounce. It sees me, which makes it hard to photograph because it keeps moving around to the far side of the stalk. Like most predators, it has an intelligent, deliberate way of behaving.

This one is in the family Reduviidae (reh-doo-VEE-ih-day, Wikipedia), possibly related to the European species Coranus griseus (photo at Flikr by Joao Coelho), but most likely not the same species. Note the characteristic “hunchback” appearance and the spotted edge of the abdomen.

Assassin bugs are related to the non-predatory shield bugs (here’s a previous post about a shield bug).

Some can administer a painful, venomous bite with their piercing mouthparts. They violently attack their prey, which can be much larger than themselves, and subdue it with a poison bite. Then they suck out the prey’s inner fluids, leaving behind an empty shell.

These are vicious little hunters. Some assassin bugs even specialize on mammalian blood, including the notorious kissing bug of Mexico and the southwestern US, also in the Reduviidae (basic kissing bug facts from University of Arizona).

Several days after the first pictures were taken, this pair were discovered in a state of mutual … well, they were having a good time, no doubt. They were on this chard flower stalk all morning and all afternoon, and they were still together at dusk.

The next morning they had gone away.

Looking at insects like these, one might wonder at their form. From an evolutionary perspective, what is the advantage of the sharp-edged shoulder humps? Why are there prominent spots along the edges of the abdomen? Are these sexually selected traits like guppy colors or deer antlers? Do they serve some other function?

Assassin bugs like to hang out in flowers, waiting for… well, this little critter, for example, a flower fly in the Syrphidae who is happily eating pollen among the same chard flowers. I think this lucky one got away.

Look to this previous post for another flower fly.

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after a pause

a time like death

the pod splits open

revealing a living seed

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I’m back after a time of silence. It was good to get away from public presence for a while, to think about life and calling and stuff. As you might imagine, there are a lot of thoughts and feelings around the ecogardening projects. It seems like some adjustments in strategy might be appropriate, based on what has been learned lately.

The passion is deep, the commitment is strong. Now, how to proceed to find a viable calling?

Watch these pages for updates on this ongoing evolution.

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