Insect Safari Walk, July 14 2012

“If [insects] all were to disappear, humanity probably could not last more than a few months.”  

– E.O. Wilson

Eddie Dunbar, President and founder of the Insect Sciences Museum of California (ISMC) was our walk leader last Saturday for our second Wild Oakland walk, an Insect Safari!

That’s Eddie on the right!

We met in the gardens at Lake Merritt, which was a whirlwind of activity that day because it also happened to be the open house put on by the Friends of the Gardens at Lake Merritt.  There was free food, tables of information, classes, entertainment, and generally quite a lot of stuff going on.  The Lake Merritt Boathouse was also having their free boating day, which meant that you could take the paddleboats and kayaks out onto the lake free of charge!  It was basically a big party last Saturday, and we were able to do our bit to add to the festivities.

Eddie started the walk by passing out the equipment we would need to capture, observe, and release the insects we would be studying.  We received magnifying loupes, nets, and collection vials that Eddie showed us how to use.  We also got a lesson on how to handle the nets- mostly consisting of how to catch bugs in them (it requires a small flick of the net after you’ve swooped in on something, folding the net over the rim to prevent escape) and how to not use them- don’t drag them on the ground, don’t pretend they’re swords, and don’t put them over people’s heads… none of which we were even thinking about until he said something, which of course immediately made us all want to duel and “catch” each other.  But we stemmed our impulses and let him continue.

 Deciphering the mechanics of our bug catching implements and resisting the urge to joust

Just standing where we were, Eddie managed to catch our first subject of the day by gently tapping the plants with his net, a surefire technique to rouse insects.  This insect happened to be a European Paper Wasp (Polistes dominula), a common wasp that was introduced to North America in the 1970s and often mistaken for a yellowjacket- they build their nests by chewing wood fibers to create a paste, hence the name.

Here are some action shots for you…

Hunting for insects…

and catching them!

So many bugs, so little time!  Since I could write page after page detailing all the information flying thick and fast on the walk, I’m just going to list the insects we saw so you can look things up if you’re so inclined.  I’ve also included pictures of each, some of which have come from other sources (including Eddie Dunbar’s great e-book, Lake Merritt and Greater Oakland Insects, available on the ISMC website) since my camera decided to stop working halfway through the afternoon.  Plus most of my shots were pretty blurry anyway.

European Paper Wasp (Polistes dominula) photo by Eddie Dunbar, ISMC

Fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) photo by Tora Rocha

Western Blood Red Lady Beetle (Cycloneda polita): No longer called “ladybugs”- the name has officially been changed across the board from “ladybug” to “lady beetle” by the Entomological Society of America, since amongst other things bugs have a proboscis while the lady beetles do not. Photo from

Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) photo from

Serfid fly (Eristalis sp.): A bee mimic- it’s really a fly, but it looks like a bee! Photo by Eddie Dunbar, ISMC

Halictid Bee (Halictidae sp.): A beautiful, emerald green solitary bee that’s native to California. Halictid bees are also commonly called “sweat bees” since they’re attracted to the salt in human sweat.  Photo from

Black and Yellow Mud Dauber (Sceliphron caementarium) photo by Eddie Dunbar, ISMC

Yellow-Faced Bumblebee (Bombus vosnesenskii) photo by Constance

American Sand Wasp (Bembix americana): So called because they dig holes in the sand up to 3 feet deep and fill them with flies that they’ve laid their eggs in. Photo by Eddie Dunbar, ISMC

Mason or Potter wasp (Eumenes sp.): Folklore has it that Potter wasps inspired Native American pottery… but not this particular genus!  The name “Potter wasp” is used interchangeably between two genera. This genus is Eumenes, and the more famous potter/mason wasp is Euodynerus.  They create mud nests, usually in the corners of windows or other similar nooks.  Photo from

Leaf cutter bee (Megachile sp.): They hold pollen on their abdomen instead of on their legs.  You can see a big yellow patch of it on the underside of the abdomen in this picture!  Photo from

Cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae) photo by Eddie Dunbar, ISMC

Green lacewing larvae (Chrysoperla rufilabris): Can you see it?  They look totally different as adults, by the way. Look it up! Photo by Constance

Since I do tend to rattle on, I’ll just leave you with some nuggets of information that I found fascinating:

  • If you see an insect and it has wings, it’s an adult
  • Just because it has wings doesn’t mean it can fly
  • The Latin translation of “larvae” essentially means “unlike adult”
  • Female insects need protein from pollen and blood (like bees and mosquitoes) for their eggs and larvae, not for themselves
  • All insects have 6 legs
  • As a rule, most adult insects have four wings but flies only have two (there are, of course, exceptions)
  • Bees have “pollen baskets” on their legs, areas formed by long, curved hairs on the outer and inner sides on the tibia that they stuff with pollen- since pollen is sticky, it adheres to itself.  That’s what those yellow clumps are on bee legs are that are clearly visible if you get close enough
  • Moths have fluffy “plumos” antennae, butterflies have slender antennae, and skippers have club antennae, which is the easiest way to tell them apart (moths are also nocturnal, so during the day they probably won’t be around)
  • Lots of insects attract lots of predators- birds, bats, and otherwise.
  • There are only two land crustaceans and they’re often mistaken for insects- the roly-poly and sow bug.  And they have 14 legs, not six!

And remember…

  • Most plants depend on insects for pollination.  No insects means no fruit or flowering plants!
  • Insects unpack and loosen soil, making it easier for plants to grow.  Burrowing insects such as beetles and ants create tunnels that water can flow through, benefiting plants
  • Insects begin or help decompose dead material
  • Insects, near the base of the food chain, are a primary or partial food source for most mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles.  Think “land plankton”.

Respect the insect!!  (And spiders, centipedes, and other crawlies that aren’t actually insects.)

If you’ve made it this far in the blog, congratulations!  You’ve just read through Wild Oakland Insect Education 101, a non-credentialed resource.  For more information visit the Insect Sciences Museum of California website,  You can also see more pictures from our walk on the ISMC site.

Be sure to come to our next walk on August 11, all about squirrels!  You’ll learn all about everything you didn’t even know you wanted to know about our ubiquitous bushy tailed buddies.  See you there!

– Constance


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *