The eye-catching colors of apple galls are like nothing else in chaparral and impossible to miss. These are on scrub oaks along the Stunt High Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The galls are chemically induced by the larva of the California gall wasp, which uses the gall for food, protection, and to pupate. The rose color appears to result from exposure of the gall to sunlight.
I was descending the Stunt High Trail after visiting Saddle Peak while doing the Topanga Ridge Loop. As in other parts of the Santa Monica Mountains in which I’ve run following Hilary’s deluge, the trails were somewhat more eroded than usual but in OK shape.
Was running down the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail Saturday, when a flash of bright red on a manzanita bush caught my eye.
Very bizarre, as nature often is. At first glance I thought the bulbous red objects on the manzanita were some kind of larvae, but on closer inspection could see it was a swelling of the leaf. My first thought was some kind of viral infection.
What they turned out to be are aphid induced leaf galls. Galls generally provide a protective habitat and enhanced food source for the inducing species and their tenants.
I was on the way back from Mugu Peak and about four hours into my run. I’d stopped at an exposure of Miocene age shale along the Upper Sycamore Trail. The gray-brown rubble is home to an intensely blue-purple wildflower called spreading larkspur (Delphinium patens ssp. hepaticoideum).
I’d just snapped a series of bracketed exposures of one patch of the flowers when suddenly there was the bumblebee-on-steroids buzzing of a hummingbird in front of me.
At least I thought it was a hummingbird. It sounded like a hummingbird and was about the right size. Its blurred wings were shaped like a hummingbird’s. It flew with the precision of a hummingbird, darting from flower to flower, deftly feeding on each blossom’s nectar using its oddly shaped beak.
But it wasn’t a hummingbird — it was a hummingbird moth — a white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata). I’d read about hummingbird moths, but to have one suddenly appear and start feeding on a larkspur plant I happened to be photographing was extraordinary.
Apparently the problem of feeding on the high-energy nectar in certain types of flowers is sufficiently definitive as to have produced a very similar evolutionary solution in wildly different organisms.
The sphinx moth is described as flying like a hummingbird, but which lineage produced this elegant solution first? It may have been the moth! A trace fossil of a sphinx moth found in Early Eocene Asencio Formation of Uruguay appears to predate the earliest known Oligocene fossils of hummingbird-like birds! In any case it appears that both hovering moths and birds co-evolved with the flowering plants on which they feed and pollinate.
Since 2005 these are the dates I’ve photographed a tarantula at Ahmanson Ranch (Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve).
September 05 (2012) September 08 (2006) September 13 (2005) September 19 (2007) September 15 (2009) October 3 (2012) October 9 (2012) October 11 (2006) October 12 (2011) October 17 (2012) (2) October 23 (2013)
Autumn is when maturing male tarantulas (Aphonopelma spp.) wander about in search of a mate.
I was beginning to wonder if I would see a tarantula at Ahmanson this Fall. The last time I hadn’t seen a tarantula in September or October was 2008. Yesterday I spotted this one on the main fire road in East Las Virgenes Canyon on a run over to Cheeseboro Canyon.
The title photograph is from a run on September 5, 2012. The raised abdomen is a defensive posture. Tarantulas will scrape their abdomen with their bristly rear legs, launching irritating (urticating) barbed hairs into the air. Most tarantulas I’ve encountered this time of year do not react defensively — they’re just interested in finding a mate.