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It was raining yesterday, which made me think of our family’s favorite insect-themed video, Microcosmos. Why think of a video? I thought of it because this film has the most incredible footage insects in a rain storm. In one scene a ladybug shoots up into the air like it is on a trampoline when a raindrop hits the leaf it is standing on. In another, a cricket struggles against a torrent that would be a trickle to a human. These are scenes that really show how rough the world can be for something that is small. Even a raindrop can be a huge obstacle.

Microcosmos was made by some incredibly gifted French filmmakers. I was able to find the French version of the movie trailer on You Tube. We have a readily available version that has been translated into English. Unlike many other nature shows and documentaries, the dialogue in this one is very minimal. I found the music to be well, different, but the visuals are so astonishing that you should not let the music put you off if it isn’t your usual fare. This is only a brief snippet of some of the scenes:

The good news is that Microcosmos is still available in video or DVD, even though it was made in 1996.

Microcosmos (1996)
Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas, Jacques Perrin Director: Claude Nuridsany, Marie Pérennou Rating: G Format: DVD

Winged Migration (2001) was made by some of the same people and is also great for people who enjoy nature.

Starring: Philippe Labro, Jacques Perrin Director: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud Rating: G Format: DVD

Life in the Undergrowth, starring David Attenborough also has awesome footage of creatures, but with a lot more information about what you are seeing.

It is cold (for us) and windy this morning, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to find a bug of the week. No fear, there's always something going on in the insect world.

barrel cactus

First I checked our barrel cactus, which is covered with yellow fruit.

barrel cactus

As I got closer, I spotted a beige patch near the base of one of the fruit towards the right/center of the photograph. You'll be able to see it more clearly in the next photograph.

cactus

The biege patch looked soft and furry, with some yellow and orangish bumps.

ants at extrafloral nectaries

Ants were visiting those bumps in a purposeful way. First they would arrive looking slender.

ants at extrafloral nectaries

After spending some time with their heads near the bumps their hind portion, called a gaster in ants, would start to swell up.

ants at extrafloral nectaries

These ants are feeding at the extrafloral nectaries of the cactus. Nectaries are parts of a plant that produce the sweet juicy nectar. Many are found inside the flower of the plant. These structures are called extrafloral because they are outside of the flower.

Why does a cactus supply liquid sweets in the form of nectar to ants, especially in the desert where water is in short supply? There are several theories, including that ants increase the fertility of the soil around their mounds and ants are more likely to nest nearby when food is available, and/or that ants feed on insect pests while on the cactus. In any case, it is a fascinating example of just one of the complex relationships between ants and plants.

Thinking of sweets makes me want to have a cup of hot chocolate...

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Just caught a brief chance to photograph this lady beetle before it flew away.

twicestabbed lady beetle

Most of us think of ladybugs or lady beetles as red with black spots, but these helpful beetles come in many colors, shapes and sizes. This one has the interesting name of Twicestabbed lady beetle, from the two spots of bright red on its wings (elytra), one on either side. The scientific name name is Chilocorus. Although it was only a brief glance, it is probably Chilocorus orbus, which feeds on scale insects.

Hope everyone has a nice Thanksgiving!