"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn't boring." Zelda Fitzgerald

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ladybug Mosh Pit

 We took a hike with our new homeschool friends recently to see the winter ladybug clusters. Our new pals are hardcore, just the way we like our friends so, we all hiked through a redwood forest in the rain with minimal gear and cover and maximal mud and toddlers to see the spectacle of the jewel insects gathered in bright clusters and crowds on the sides of the trail.

 The hike was stunning with or without ladybugs, the redwoods and the rainy season forest world of California blows my mind. Its like some jurassic Fern Gully world that is 15 minutes from my house. Wild. Utterly. It was so exciting to hop right out of the car and see that basically as soon as we left the parking lot we were lost in a forest paradise.

 After our hike I did some reading about these gorgeous insects. It was such a consuming thing to see a branch turned glossy red with their crowded wing covers that the boys were pretty obsessed. It was much much harder to convince them to return hike because they were so interested in watching them. They each tried to carry one home on their hand, Pom cried some bitter tears when his "own bug" spread wings and rejoined kith and kin.

 Ladybugs are famous for being a gardener's friend because they eat aphid which are a major plant pest in the garden bed. Turns out that the earlier understanding of ladybug diet was a little unclear and after further observation and research scientists have decided that they are definitely not carnivores but omnivores. They do eat a lot of aphids and other soft bodied pests but they also eat nectar, sap, pollen and even fungi.

Someone on the hike told us that they number of spots denote age which turns out to be a commonly repeated myth. The spots show their species, there are a lot of different kinds of ladybugs....both native to our shores and imported and they can vary in appearance but the number of spots is the best differentiator.

I've noticed before that when you hold a ladybug you often start to sniff a peculiar stink. Turns out that's a back-up plan for their scarlet wing covers which are already a warning sign to birds to let them know that they taste terrible. If they are hassled or stressed they will start "reflex bleeding" a substance from their knees that smells bad and tastes worse than their natural flavor. Crazy! Right?

There are also some species of ladybugs which lady fertile eggs and then lay a bunch of infertile eggs in among them to be food for the forthcoming children. What a strange but clever system. Motherhood is pretty vast and wild.

If you ever need a break from winter and come visit we'll take you to see the ladybugs where they cluster in the redwood groves. Its astounding and gorgeous....California is amazing.


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