Friday, December 22, 2017

Oleanders and the Aphid Dance

Caterpillars have been the creature of interest lately. 

Not long ago a cluster or Oleander Caterpillars had been hanging around one particular light post that we pass on the way to work. 

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Then one day, they were gone and a dirt "cluster" was slowly growing.  We didn't really pay it any mind until one day on the way to work a new creature was noticed in the same general area.

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This is the Polka-dot Wasp Moth (a.k.a. The Oleander Moth).  Do not let the word wasp deter you.  This is actually a harmless moth.

Upon realizing that this moth had once been the beautiful Oleander Caterpillar a closer look at the 'dirty-looking' aggregation on the light pole revealed...

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                 that it was actually a cluster of Oleander Caterpillar's mid-transformation.

It is difficult to see that they are covered in silken hairs.  So, here is a picture of a single one found on the back of a palm branch.

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This singular pupa more clearly demonstrates the fine silken hairs that typically cover the aggregate.

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When it is not covered in silken hairs, the pupa reveals itself to be quite beautiful in its own right.

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This one, that we had found on the ground, we tucked back into the aggregate after a few photos.

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Freshly emerged and getting oriented.  This Polka-dot Wasp Moth has only a few days to find a mate and continue the cycle of the species.  Unlike other moths, the Polka-dot is a day flier and also harbors the unique ability to send out ultrasonic signals to attract a mate instead of pheromones.

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Speaking of continuing the cycle... a search of the nearby Oleander bush revealed this wonderful deposit of eggs.

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After a successful endeavor with the Polka-dot Wasp Moth, we headed over to Possum Long.  Normally, this is a local spot where birds are the subject.  Today, however, it was butterflies.

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           The Monarchs were out in force but it was the skippers that caught our eye.

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That is until Darlene turned over a leaf....

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Then it was back to Monarchs as she had discovered a Monarch Caterpillar Egg (see the tiny white spec).

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What is amazing about these nearly invisible eggs is that they have a characteristic shape and design.

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A Monarch egg that has been compromised by Trichogramma wasps who lay their eggs inside. These wasps are so tiny (1/50 th of an inch in size) that they can lay up to 300 of their eggs inside this already microscopic (to our eyes) Monarch egg).  If the egg turns all black it is typically not viable and wasps will emerge instead of a caterpillar.  If only the tip is black then the Monarch is actually ready to emerge.

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The benefit for us of the darker color is that it helped our macro lens more easily capture the details of the design.

While Darlene continued to search for eggs, new cats and other critters, Nicole found herself distracted by a tiny creature that most prefer to eradicate.

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What had Nicole so intrigued was that these little critters known as Aphis nerii Boyer de Fonscolombe or Oleander Aphids

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                            had their butts in the air...

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                                          and they were waving them around...

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                                                     like they just don't care.

As it turns out, truth of the matter is though that these pinhead sized destroyers actually do this 'dance' when they feel threatened.  Perhaps they should be informed that their dance is more cute than threatening.

So cute that Nicole tried her hand at making a video.  You will may want to hit the 'full screen' button on the bottom right corner and close any ads that appear to get a better view.  Enjoy and see ya later!