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We were able to travel to Prescott, Arizona last weekend. Not only was it cool, but we got some rain in the night. Early the next morning the plants and insects both were wet. We saw a lot of interesting wildlife, and I actually overwhelmed my poor camera at one point.

ladybug with raindrop

This is a native ladybug or lady beetle known as the convergent lady beetle, because of the white lines on the thorax that slant towards the center (although I guess from another point of view it could be the divergent lady beetle). It carried a rain drop for quite a ways.

harmonia lady beetle

On the same plant, a few branches away, was a larger lady beetle with a rough "M" on it's thorax. This is the introduced multicolored Asian lady beetle. The Asian lady beetle is the one that comes into houses in the fall to spend the winter indoors. The convergent lady beetles also cluster together, but usually choose outdoor locations. This beetle had smaller droplets of water.

In the same location, we also saw some white-lined sphinx moths flitting from flower to flower, like insect hummingbirds. I hope to get some pictures of their large yellow or green and black-striped caterpillars which are probably feeding on desert weeds about this time of year. If you scroll down the page at Caterpillars of Southeastern Arizona you will see a picture of one. Click on the word adult for a photo of the moth.

When they have finished eating and are looking for a place to pupate in the soil, these caterpillars can migrate in large numbers. To people who don't know what they are or haven't seen them before, it can be quite alarming. As with many insects. however, it doesn't take them long to find a good place to dig into the soil and they will disappear.

Books for more information on ladybugs:

For young children try “Are You a Ladybug?” Like the rest of this series, the book compares humans and ladybugs in an informative and gently humorous way.

Although the title of this First Discovery Book is “The Ladybug and Other Insects,” it really is mostly about ladybugs. Some of the pages are clear with illustrations on them. When flipped they show things like the underside of the ladybug. These books in this series are great fun, and my son still enjoys flipping through them even though he is well past the targeted age range.

This is a newer version of the same book in paperback.

“Face to Face With the Ladybug” is a bit more detailed and is for the older child.

Oh, I wish I had the time to take some video of one of our plants this morning. Our desert spoon is flowering and it is alive with bees. Honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, digger bees, sweat bees, big bees, tiny bees, billions and billions of bees. Well, probably not that many, but it seemed that way. It was like a swarm.

The desert spoon plant sends up a huge flower stalk covered with blooms. This year there were 5 stalks. You can't see them all here.

desert spoon

Each stalk was covered with hundreds of bees. Each of those specks was a fast-moving insect.

Of course you know that the bees were gathering pollen, the yellowish powder produced by the flower, and nectar, the sweet liquid reward for picking up the pollen. The honey bees pack the pollen into the specially shaped baskets on their hind legs. Check out the load this honey bee has gathered. Honey bees were the most numerous bees this morning.

honey bee

I was able to get very close to these insects without any danger. They were intent on gathering food, and that is it.

The biggest bees I saw were the black carpenter bees, but they seemed intimidated by the other bees and quickly flew away. They may have also been sizing up the stalks as future home sites. Carpenter bees build their nests in agave and desert spoon flower stalks.

The second biggest bees were yellow and black bumble bees. They stay near the top of the stalks, so I couldn’t get a close up.

bumble bee

The smallest bees were some tiny sweat bees. They were numerous, but not as noticeable because of their pencil-lead size.

sweat bee

Mixed in were a few other sweat bees and digger bees. Here are two examples.

green beeStripe bee

Finally, not all the creatures I saw this morning were working hard to gather pollen and nectar. This jumping spider was taking advantage of the bounty of bees to catch breakfast. It was behaving in an odd manner, jumping down and hanging upside down with its legs drawn in. In that position it looked all the world like a flying bee. Very Cool!!


For more information about bees, check out the "Africanized Honey Bees on the Move" website under the blogroll in the sidebar.

Also, try out growing list of children's books about honey bees at Science Books for Kids.


Have you guessed which picture is a caterpillar from the previous post on Butterflies Everywhere? The real caterpillar is the lowest photo. The photo above it is a bird-dropping sitting on a nearby leaf.

The caterpillar, sometimes called an orange dog, is thought to mimic bird-droppings to avoid being eaten by birds.

We are quite excited because this caterpillar turns into the beautiful giant swallowtail butterfly (photo at Butterflies of Southeastern Arizona website).

Another interesting thing about the orange dog caterpillar is that it has an unusual defense. When alarmed, it shoots out a smelly orange, horn-like structure called an osmeterium.

orange gog

This one is pretty small because the larva is still small. I found an even better shot of an orange dog osmeterium at the BugGuide website.

Not six feet away we have a pair of caterpillars on our desert milkweed. These are the larvae of the queen butterfly. They resemble monarch larvae, but have three sets of spiky appendages and the stripes are red rather than black.

queen caterpillar

I caught a picture of the adult queen butterfly as it was laying eggs a few days before on another desert milkweed.

queen butterfly

By the way, it is not an accident that we have so many caterpillars and butterflies in our yard. When we planted our landscape, we purposely chose plants that are food for caterpillars. Butterfly gardening is something that the whole family can enjoy. If you are interested in learning more, just let me know.