If you plant it, they will come.
Western tiger swallowtails (Papilio rutulus) can't get enough of our butterfly bush. For the first time ever, we saw two of them and managed to get both in the same image. Courtship? Curiosity? Chance encounter?
Whatever it was, they came together, touched and flew away.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says that "the Western tiger swallowtail is basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse. It has expanded into older urban neighborhoods where several of its host genera are grown as shade trees, and behaves as if the street were a watercourse. In the high country and on the Sierran east slope its usual host is Aspen.
"One brood (June-July) at higher elevations; one and a partial second at Washington; 2-3 at lower elevations with a long flight season (late February or March-September or October). An avid puddler. Visits Yerba Santa, California Buckeye, Milkweed, Dogbane, Lilies, Coyotemint, etc., etc. and in gardens frequent at Lilac and Buddleia. Spring individuals are smaller and usually paler than summer. Low-elevation hosts include Sycamore (Platanus), Ash (Fraxinus), Cherry and other stone fruits (Prunus), Willow (Salix), Privet (Ligustrum), Lilac (Syringa) and (in Sacramento County) Sweet Gum (Liquidambar)."
Nevertheless, "the tiger" is common in Western America and its bright yellow and black markings with its blue and orange spots on its tail is a sight we never tire of--even when parts of the swallowtail are missing. Predators, such as birds, praying mantids and spiders, try to grab it.
They may have a "tiger" by the tail, but that doesn't mean they can hold on.
Some folks dislike photos of praying mantids snagging, killing and eating their prey. Well, often the "eating" part comes before the "killing" part.
Still, they have to kill to live. We all do.
Or someone does it for us.
We've been seeing lots of praying mantids in our bee garden, especially among the lavender (Lavandula), Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and passionflower vine (Passiflora). Most of them are lying in wait. Others, with spiked forelegs gripping their prey, are eating.
They have to kill to live.
We encountered this one (below) camouflaged in the lavender patch. Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, thinks it may be a native species; it looks like some she's seen by the Yolo Causeway.
Praying mantids, of course, are insects and belong to the class Insecta, and the order Mantodea.
BugGuide.Net describes them as "Relatively large, elongate insects up to several inches long. Typical features include triangular heads with large compound eyes set on either side and usually three ocelli in between; very flexible articulation between the head and prothorax providing great mobility and allowing a mantid to 'look over its shoulder''; raptorial forelegs used to capture prey." California has some 20 species in 12 genera.
The word, mantis, is Greek for "soothsayer, prophet." (Maybe it should be "sure slayer.")
And yes, they can be highly cannibalistic. When they emerge from an ootheca or egg case, they show their brotherly love and sisterly love by eating one another.
BugGuide.Net says that the larger mantids can prey on small birds, lizards, and amphibians. Indeed, they can. YouTube displays videos of mantids attacking and eating hummingbirds.
We spotted an ootheca last winter on our barnlike bird house. Birds don't inhabit it. It's easy to see why.
But have you ever seen a honey bee cleaning her tongue?
Bay Nature contributing editor Alison Hawks recently asked two of our UC Davis bee experts why bees clean themselves. Their joint answer is posted on the Bay Nature website under "Ask a Naturalist." Bay Nature, as you've probably surmised, is based in the Bay Area--Berkeley, in fact. It explores nature in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Answering Bay Nature's question were Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen, who retired in June of 2014 after 38 years of service, and new Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño.
Mussen continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall, while Niño is based at Briggs and at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
Ask The Naturalist: Why Do Honeybees Clean Themselves?
"The inside of a bee hive is considered to be a pretty clean environment. The bees produce honey there and we eat it. But, why are honey bees and their hive so clean? It is in their genes.
"Honey bees are akin to animated robots that move around in their environment responding to stimuli with behaviors that have served them well for millions of years. Building wax combs to use for food storage and baby bee production allows the bees to keep tens of thousands of bees huddled close together. However, if any type of microbial outbreak occurs, all this closeness could lead to an epidemic and colony death.
"As for the bees themselves, it is common to see them using their legs or mouthparts to clean off other parts of their bodies. For bees, we might think that they are simply moving around or brushing off pollen that they picked up when foraging. However, honey bees live in a suit of armor called an exoskeleton. The exoskeleton is waterproof and protects the insects from invasive microbes. But bees also have to sense what is going on around them, so they have sensory receptors on the surface of their exoskeleton. The most obvious sensory organs on bees are their compound eyes. Honey bees can see objects, detect polarized sunlight, and have good color discrimination, similar to that of humans, but shifted a bit in the color spectrum. Bees wipe their eyes every so often to keep them clean. We humans have eye lids that keep our eyes clean and moist.
"The rest of the sensory organs on the exoskeleton are sensilla (stiff hairs and protuberances) or pits that serve as sensory receptors. The tips of honey bees' antennae have many touch receptors, odor receptors, and a special sensory organ called Johnston's organ that tells them how fast they are flying. Other sensilla bend when the bee changes positions, so it remains aligned with gravity when it is building comb cells. Sensilla on a queen bee's antennae help her determine the size of a comb cell, which determines if she lays a worker- or drone-destined egg. So, all those sensilla must remain dust and pollen-free to function properly, allowing bees to remain as busy as, well, bees."
So, there you have it--why bees clean themselves. Great information! Thanks, bee experts and Bay Nature!
It suits them to a "T."
And the "T" is for Tithonia.
Many species of butterflies frequent our Tithonia, also known as Mexican sunflower. Like its name implies, it's a member of the sunflower family, Asteraceae.
On any given Sunday--not to mention the other days of the week--the butterflies descend on the Mexican sunflower for a quick burst of nectar. Some stay longer than others, often depending on whether the territorial male sunflower bees (Melissodes and Svastra) are engaging in target practice.
Meet the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae).
Meet the Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon).
Meet the Monarch (Danaus plexippus).
Meet the skipper (family Hesperiidae).
The Tithonia belongs in every bee garden!
For more information about butterflies in California's central valley, be sure to check out the butterfly website of Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis.
What we've always loved about the county fairs: the incredible exhibits. Especially exhibits dealing with photographs and paintings of insects.
When the 68th annual Solano County Fair in Vallejo opens Wednesday, July 29 and continues through Sunday, Aug. 2, you'll see butterflies and bees (live ones!) on the grounds at 900 Fairgrounds Drive, but inside the exhibit halls, you'll see other bugs.
In the adult section, Iris Mayhew of Vallejo, who acknowledges being a beginning artist, painted a Western tiger swallowtail on a decorative plate. She's hoping to get more involved in painting insects, including honey bees and dragonflies.
It's art imitating real life but she's made it her own. It was Oscar Wilde who wrote in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying that, "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life".
Last Sunday, McCormack Hall superintendent Gloria Gonzalez and assistant superintendent Sharon Payne and assistants Angelina Gonzalez, Julianna Payne and Iris Mayhew and her 10-year-old Ian Mayhew, all of Vallejo, were busily dressing up the hall for fairtime. They affixed best-of-show, best-of-division and blue ribbons (bragging rights) to the exhibits, transforming a once empty hall to a county celebration.
The work of the Gonzalez-Payne team will bring back memories of fairs gone by--from weathered old barns to intricately detailed quilts to patiently pickled preserves. Yes, someone even preserved quail eggs!
It's time to round up friends and family to see what the county fair has to offer.
And quite appropriately, the theme is "Meet Me at the Fair!"