Tag Archive: insects

Finding a White Praying Mantis

blog-20120912-img1The small, often overlooked things can bring people back to living in the moment. Our experience occurred while driving to our campsite in Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. We had stopped for gasoline, just off the Interstate, when my daughter saw something unusual. She looked closer and discovered a white Praying Mantis hiding on a cream colored section of the pump and dangerously close to passing feet.

The location was not safe for the creature so I carefully picked it up; or rather it jumped to my hand. We studied it for several minutes, amazed by the buttery-white color. It seemed to study us as well.

Our drive that day had been hurried with stress and schedules, but the discovery of this curious insect changed everything for our trip. The act of finding the white mantis was a discovery moment, it had allowed us to mentally cross a threshold; we were no longer hurried by going somewhere, rather we were somewhere. Although we were not yet camping, we were living in the moment.

Nearby were some flowering plants that were in a protected area. We found a lighter colored plant so the mantis might be better camouflaged. We carefully deposited the mantis, and after a few minutes it stealthily strode somewhat herky-jerky into the bushes.

We enjoyed a pleasant drive into the national park; thankful for the unusual experience the little insect had given us.

We later learned that this mantis (a California Mantis), molts several times and, after molting, their color is very light. The color then changes to brown or green.

What is the Name of that Giant Moth in My Cabin?

Ceanothus Silk Moth

We were asleep in a tent cabin nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. In the still of the night a visitor joined us.

We awoke that morning and were greeted by a huge moth on the wall – almost 4 and half inches across!

What was it? The moth was beautifully colored in burnt red and adorned with white and black that sometimes gently blended into one another.

It quietly sat on the wall, not moving. We inspected it closer and accidentally disturbed it causing it to clumsily flutter about the small tent cabin room. Interestingly, it found a resting space on a pinecone that was sitting on a small table. We carefully snapped a photo.

This time we gave the large moth more space so we would not disturb it. A quick rummage in a backpack produced a field guide, after a few page turns we found the section on Butterflies and Moths. Our visitor was:

Ceanothus Silk Moth
(Hyalophora euryalus)
Giant Silkworm Moth Family

We quietly dressed and departed for coffee and breakfast. The cool air embraced us as we opened the door and gave us a quick shiver. Light appeared as shafts breaking through the wall of tall trees that surrounded us. I understood why the moth found shelter in the moderate warmth of the tent cabin.

When we returned to the cabin the giant moth had departed. We later read more, we had seen an adult Ceanothus Silk Moth. These handsome moths just live for a short time; their primary purpose is to find a mate and lay their eggs to continue their species, after which they die. It seemed harsh, but it was part of a natural cycle. We wished the giant moth good fortune in having a family.

The short existence of this moth provided reflection for everyone the rest of the day as we explored the woods.

Location: Sierra Nevada Mountains of California
Source: National Audubon Society Field Guide to California.

A Park with an Arch, a Beach, and Lots of Butterflies

blog_20101115_img2Along California’s central coast is a wonderful family destination called Natural Bridges State Beach.

The park derives its name from naturally formed arches that were carved from the sand and mudstone cliffs. In the early 1900’s three arches were visible, but over the years wave action undercut the formations causing two of them to fall. The third, and last remaining arch is visible today (shown).

Most people think of summer as being the best time to visit the coast, but November can offer clear skies, warm sunshine, very comfortable temperatures, and beaches generally free of crowds – even on weekends. At noon on this weekend day only two-dozen people were visiting this 65 acre park.

But the park was being visited by hundreds of non-human visitors.

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In just a quick five-minute walk inland were hundreds of monarch butterflies! A stroller accessible boardwalk near the visitors center leads to a monarch preserve hidden in a grove of eucalyptus trees. Here monarchs flit overhead and offer great opportunities for humans to see and photograph these beautiful butterflies. In the side photo is a winsome looking monarch that flitted down and landed near the boardwalk. An interpreter at the preserve said that an estimated fifteen hundred monarchs were currently visiting.

Every autumn, generally mid-October, the monarchs begin arriving at Natural Bridges State Beach. This is just one of several hundred locations along California’s coast where the monarchs stay for the winter. The coast offers them shelter from the cold inland temperatures of winter.

Especially fascinating is the monarchs arrive at the coast after traveling hundreds, even thousands of miles.

North America is home to two-distinct populations of monarchs. The continental divide along the Rocky Mountains provides a natural barrier that the monarchs rarely cross. The monarchs from southeastern Canada and the eastern United States migrate to their wintering home in Mexico while the monarchs in the southwestern Canada and the western U.S. migrate to areas along California’s coast. When they arrive they bunch together on branches sometimes forming large clusters. In the spring, as the weather warms, the monarchs begin traveling north looking for milkweed. The milkweed plant is the food source for monarch butterflies.

This year at Natural Bridges the monarch population is low compared to previous years when an estimated ten thousand would arrive. When I first saw these monarchs twenty years ago the branches were weighted down by massive clumps of monarchs. Although the number the monarchs are less this year they are still an impressive sight.

To learn more about the park visit the Natural Bridges State Beach website.

Here are some interesting Monarch mini-facts found on an interpretive display in the park’s visitor center:

• If a human baby grew as fast and as large as a monarch caterpillar, it would be about the size of a school bus and 2 ½ weeks old!

• A monarch tagged in eastern Canada was recovered in central Mexico after traveling a distance of nearly 3,000 miles.

• Monarch butterflies have been introduced to every continent in the world except for Antarctica. Only in their native North America do they engage in mass migrations.

One Ladybug, A Thousand Ladybugs…One Million Ladybugs!

It was a cool March morning in a redwood forest of California’s Santa Cruz Mountains.

My family ventured up a small fern lined creek following an overgrown trail – a trail less traveled.

Near the top of the stream the trail became overgrown, we climbed to the canyon’s edge to walk a more recognizable path. A major trail was about twenty feet away. Walking to the trail we noticed a single ladybug basking in a sunbeam just front of us. We thought this to be a rare sight for the time of year.

In another step we saw ten ladybugs, then one hundred. Several more steps and we saw clumps and carpets of red and black ladybugs covering the ground! Then we noticed that all around us the tree branches and tree trunks were also covered. Surrounding us were millions of ladybugs!

The ladybug patchwork carpet covered an area roughly 20 by 30 feet. The ladybugs were clumped between the ridges and valleys of redwood bark forty feet above our heads before becoming difficult to see. We recognized that we had ventured into a rarely seen spectacle.

The ladybugs were apparently emerging from ‘diapause’, the insect equivalent of hibernation. During diapause the ladybugs gather together in large groups to conserve their resources and for reproductive purposes. “Ladybugs can survive for up to nine months by living off their stored reserves. They break out of diapause when the temperature reaches 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius), which is generally when food becomes available again.”

The ladybugs that were fortunate enough to enjoy a sunbeam were more energetic than their cooler neighbors, sometimes only inches away.

These insects are commonly referred to as ladybugs, but are actually beetles. Their correct name is the Ladybird Beetle. Apparently such grouping locations are carefully guarded secrets by people (who must obtain a special permit) who harvest the beetles primarily for purpose of selling in garden stores as pest control insects.

We were awed by this large concentration of ladybugs and watched them for some time before continuing down the trail.

We left the ladybugs as we found them. Their location enjoyed others who may take a trail less taken.

Reference Source: San Diego Zoo website > Animal Bytes > Insects > Ladybugs.