Sunday, August 2, 2009

Journey in thyme

Yesterday morning was sunny, but a bit breezy, so I had to confine myself to photographing low-growing areas out of the wind. There's another garden in my yard that readers who only know it from this blog have not really yet seen, a back garden shown here (those are composters over to the right):

The light purple stuff in front is Thymus vulgaris, a fragrant, nectar-rich attraction for many insects, and their parasites.

Here it is a little closer:

I had resisted trying to photograph thyme until now for several reasons. The flowers are quite light coloured and so the bright sunlight necessary for super macro photography glares off them. And they are really, really small. Here's how small:

Bees tend to zoom around on it in a crazed, obsessive manner. I did so much bee photography at the beginning of this blog that I still haven't even tried to capture one with the Raynox lens. Maybe today…

At any rate, I sat cross-legged in front of a likely clump and this is what I saw:

A flower bud:

The inside of an open flower:

Way down deep inside:
In the bud above, you can see the two little "arms" beginning to unfold at the bottom. Here they are again in various stages of development. What they are for, I don't know; maybe it will become clearer later in the summer when the seeds fully form.

What's this?

Here's a tiny braconid wasp. The long oviposter is used to lay eggs into "very young, relatively defenceless caterpillars. They hatch into internal parasitoids that collectively consume the caterpillar's contents, slowly at first but eventually developing in the mature caterpillar to spin silk cocoons surrounding the caterpillar's corpse," according to my favourite source, Stephen Marshall, in Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity.

Quite a pretty fly. The focus is on its tongue—or rather, proboscis, since it is much more than just a tongue. Dr. Marshall has a soft spot in his heart for flies, and that chapter is one of the most eloquent in his book, in my opinion. He says, "Adult flies frequently fuel up for flight at sugar stations, including flowers or, more often, honeydew deposits left by aphids or related phloem-sucking bugs."

Do you see that large indentation between its eyes? "Instead of casting the larval skin before pupation, the way butterflies and most other insects with complete metamorphosis do, maggots [of the order Brachycera] simply transform to a pupa right inside the skin of the last larval stage. This skin hardens to a brown, seedlike shell called a puparium…but…How does the delicate adult fly get out of this hard shell? In most cases, it simply pops a cap off the puparium by pumping a big, spiny, balloon-like swelling, called a ptilinum, out the front of its head. [Afterwards] the ptilinum is withdrawn into the head. The retraction of the ptilinum leaves a distinct semicircular scar or suture over the tops of the antennae, called a frontal suture or ptilinal suture."

Though I try to keep them down, there are a few weeds among the thyme, including this cute, very little, flower, whose name I don't know:

Here's its fruit, with a nonchalant little something perched on it:

Bye for now!

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