Have you ever noticed tiny pits in a dry, usually a sandy area, quite often under the overhang of your roof? You may have LIONS-ant lions.  They live underground as larvae.  When the soil warms up they begin digging about an inch deep up to 2 inches wide.  Usually you will find a number of pits as the adult female lays her eggs in a good area for her children.

          As soon as they hatch they begin to dig, throwing the sand to the top, leaving sloping sides. Then they settle in the bottom.  The small larvae are up to an inch long with big pinchers on its head. The hairs on its abdomen point forward so when food arrives it can back down to get a good grip. When an ant, caterpillar, or other food starts to fall in it throws sand to make it harder to get out.  At the bottom the larvae injects his breakfast with a paralyzer and sucks out the juices. The adult is a feeble flier.

          If in your walks in weedy areas or on new growth on pines or shrubs and came upon areas that are covered with “spit”, you have just met a “Spittle Bug”, and if you look close you can see the nymph who produced the spittle by drinking juices from the plant.  They stand on their head and blow the spittle from their anus which then falls down and froths up and covers them.  In here they may molt several times with some species coming out to make a new home after a molt.  This keeps them from drying out as they grow and gives some protection from predators. They will emerge as adults from the mass.  They overwinter as eggs on plant stems. Some live their entire life on trees, especially Pines.  There may be several generations during a summer. As soon as they hatch, they will find a plant and start a Spittle home.

          In an older book I have on insects (1946) I found a number of interesting stories and fables about “Lady Bird Beetles”. She is known around the world as Lady Bird, Lady Bug, Lady Cow, Lady Fly, or farmers in France call them “Cows of the Lord”. There are at least 2000 species with about 150 in the United States, each with a favorite food.  As usual there is a bad member in any family. This family includes "The Spotted Bean Beetle”. Just yesterday a clerk in a store told me she found a “Lady Bird” in her car so she is going to have good luck.  Many of these species were imported into the United States.

          Lady Bugs were imported to California to save the Citrus growers from Scale. It had already killed thousands of trees.  Their appetite is tremendous.  Their eggs are laid under a leaf, as many as 200 of them. They are very hungry when they hatch and the larvae (called Aphis lions) can eat 40 per hour by draining the juice and eating the bodies. Both larvae and mother love eggs such as the Colorado Potato Beetles. 

          After they pupate and hatch, the adults are great eaters but can’t compare to the larvae. One adult was known to eat 50 Plant Lice at a sitting.  One can buy Lady Bugs. Early in my gardening days I received a little “box”, made with wooden sides and bottom and the top from fine wire fencing. The adult Lady Bugs were crawling inside.  They like to roam, especially in the daytime, so when you loosen a side panel or the fine wire fencing, they may prefer other yards to yours.  Some suggest keeping them overnight in the box, and then setting the bugs free at night so when they wake up in the morning, the location is more familiar and they are less likely to roam.

          When attacked, a Lady Bug can squeeze blood that is very stinky, from the joints of her legs, making her not so delicious a dinner. Also, like possums they can “play dead”.

          “An insect breathes but it has not lungs. It hears but has not ears on its head. Its heart pumps but is so different from ours that often it pumps blood backward.” Teale

          If you have seen or felt the home of a “Paper Wasp” you have seen and felt the work of an artist. When Spring arrives, only the Queens, who spent the winter protected by debris or in spaces in building, survive. She then starts chewing wood (the first paper maker in history) and mixes it with her saliva and makes a cell and a fastener under an eave or protected place. Before the egg shaped cell is finished, she lays an egg inside, gluing it in.  Then she spends her time hunting for old wood she can chew, adding cells and eggs and nectar to feed the larvae when it hatches.

          By fall the nest may have several hundred cells, but only the first ones made by the queen. The others by the workers who have hatched.  But the larvae will be meat eaters soon, so the queen and workers hunt for victims to eat and regurgitate to the babies.  Think of these wasps as your friends as they each find things such as Cabbage Worms, etc. The younger larvae are attached by their tail in the cells and wait to be fed.  The Wasps also carry water to the larvae that will soon spin silk over the end of their cell and wait to become an adult.  This goes on until the days get cold and the workers all die. Then the young queens hunt for a winter home, leaving the house empty. At about this time the males appear to mate the new queens.  You can tell them by their white faces.  They also do not survive the winter. I have never seen a human who can spin silk, chew wood, and make paper.

Copyright 2011