Thursday, June 28, 2012

Couldn't Find the Bloodsucking Conenose

I had a great time leading kids on a nature hike yesterday. Kids mostly from cities in the Bay Area mostly have some trepidation about entering the wilderness.  A few hundred yards off pavement constitutes wilderness.  Right away, they asked me "what's the most dangerous animal in these woods?"  I quickly answered, "People!"  Then I had to qualify that.  They feared the woods were full of dangerous people and I had to reassure them that we were not likely to be attacked, or even see anyone on this trail that parallels Tollgate Creek. 
I built some excitement by explaining that we would search for the Western Bloodsucking Conenose which I have found most often on a plant called Mugwort, a close relative of Sagebrush.  It's always risky to promise that we'll see a certain bug because the bugs don't have copies of the script.  However, even if we don't find the target animal, and we didn't, nature never disappoints me.  She provides alternatives.
From the top, here's a sampler of what we saw:  The dramatic-looking Ichneumon Wasp and its buddies were landing on daisies and Indian Hemp.  Ichneumon Wasps have a life style that could be a source of great science fiction stories.  Their "babies" grow up inside other insects while thoser insects are still alive.  We also talked about how the daisies come from Europe and the Indian Hemp is in the milkweed family and the strong fibers are suitable for home-made rope.
Then we saw the Checked Clerid Beetle, a beauty, first on Klamath Weed, a cousin of St. John's Wort, then on Yarrow, a relative of carrots.  The kids were able to catch and handle some of these and were thrilled to find a bug they needn't fear.  By the end of our walk, ost bugs were in this category.
Then we saw a Choke Cherry shrub with "pimples."  I explained what galls were, and we dissected a few to find the larvae of tiny wasps growing inside.  Another exciting discovery.
In the middle of the trail we came across a lone specimen of Elegant Rock Cress, one of the earliest in the mustard family to bloom in the spring.  This one had long since gone to seed and the kids enjoyed the dramatic arrangement of seed pods and the knowledge that it was closely related to many vegetables they eat, and often hate: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.
I asked the kids to check every Yarrow and Daisy we encountered for possible bug visitors and assured them they would not encounter Black Widow spiders on these flowers.  This little Tiger Moth was one of the prettier discoveries.
Then the Showy Milkweeds were in full bloom in some sunny spots.  They were visited by many different insects, the most impressive of which were large Carpenter Bees.
Last, some sharp-eyed 10-year-olds discovered the tiny Klamath Weed Beetles that are smaller than ladybugs and come in a wide range of metallic colors.  The kids got a charge out of passing them around and celebrating the fact that they ticked and didn't bite, although they did poop.
I showed the kids pictures of the Western Bloodsucking Conenose so they would believe they exist.  I suspect some of them will keep on looking whenever they come across a patch of Mugwort.

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