Beach Boys and Bugs

Our first stop in California was Orange County to visit Crystal Cove State Park. The campground at this park had opened for the first time this summer, and we were lucky enough to camp there on our first night (and to enjoy an unbelievably refreshing swim in the ocean). The park boasts amazing views of the Pacific Ocean, and hiking trails along a canyon.

While collecting along the trails that run through the canyon, one of my favorite finds was a collection of ant-aphid farm. These symbiotic communities form along the branches of certain plants. The ants  “farm” the aphids and collect the sweet honeydew that the aphids produce. The aphids put up with this because the ants protect them from predators. I have seen these occur in a number of habitats, but they always amaze me. Seeing them never cease to bring up a slew of questions about evolution of these behaviors.  Some people have hypothesized that the aphids have evolved so that their rear ends resemble an ant head.

There is a species of dragonfly that I first saw in Arizona, the Flamer Skimmer (Libellula saturata). Flame Skimmers have frustratingly evading my net, although I have seen it in several parks since then. While at Crystal Cove, I was looking for freshwater invertebrates along a stream. Two of these dragonflies came along (while I had no net) and began dipping the ends of their tails in the stream to release their eggs.  They came so close that they were splashing water at me as they bobbed along the stream. It was nice to have a peaceful chance to observe these beautiful insects.

Within hours of arriving in California, Liam had all of us humming Beach Boys songs.  When we had to move to a new campsite close to San Onofre State Park, it seemed fitting that we spend one day collecting at Trestles, one of the beaches mentioned in Beach Boys song, Surfing USA.  In the shrubs between our campsite and the beach, we each separately discovered these beautiful Harlequin Bugs (Murgantia histrionica) clinging to the shrubs. The initial awe wore off when we realized that each person had also found them and that there were hundreds hidden in the bushes. Since these initial sightings we continued to see the bugs everywhere in the OC.  I noticed a similar pattern in our sightings of surfers, after many initial sightings near Trestles Beach, they seemed to be everywhere we went.