When we drove to Santa Cruz on Dec. 27, 2014 to an overwintering site, we saw a monarch cluster 80 feet up--80 feet up, up and away--in a eucalyptus tree. We never saw a single tag. Then on Nov. 30, 2015 we drove to the Berkeley Aquatic Park to see a monarch cluster, 25 feet high in an ash tree. We never saw a single tag.
So it was really amazing, as recounted in a previous Bug Squad blog, to find and photograph a tagged monarch in our own backyard. The male monarch, tagged email@example.com, A6093 and part of entomologist David James' research program at Washington State University, fluttered into our yard in Vacaville, Calif. on Monday, Sept. 5.
We later learned that citizen-scientist Steve Johnson of Ashland, Ore., a member of the Southern Oregon Monarchs Advocates, tagged and released the male monarch on Sunday, Aug. 28. So, the monarch flew 285 miles in seven days or about 40.7 miles per day, James pointed out. And it's one of his earliest recoveries.
But back to sightings of tagged migrating monarchs.
We asked butterfly guru, Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, how many tagged migrating butterflies he's seen. He's studied the Central California population of butterflies—not just monarchs—for more than four decades, and is out in the field at least 200 days a year. A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Entomological Society and the California Academy of Sciences, Shapiro maintains a website on butterflies at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/, where he records the population trends he monitors in Central California. He wrote A Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, illustrated by artist Tim Manolis and published in 2007 by the University of California Press.
So, how many tagged monarchs has Art Shapiro seen in the field? "I've only seen one tagged one in the past decade--at Gates Canyon (Vacaville)," he said, "but it was too far away to read the tag, alas."
Curious, we asked a few other UC Davis scientists who study monarchs how many they have seen.
- Hugh Dingle, emeritus professor of entomology, none.
- Louie Yang, associate professor of entomology, none.
- Greg Kareofelas, an associate of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, two.
Karefoelas spotted his first tagged monarch on Table Mountain, Butte County “but it was a long time ago," he said. "It was long before I had a digital camera, so no pic."
Kareofelas sighted another tagged monarch at Knights Landing, Yolo County, on April 23, 1997. He found it on his father's ranch on Road 102, just south of Knights Landing. It was a male monarch, with the serial number #58984, tagged Jan. 29, 1997 at an overwintering site in Santa Barbara.
Kareofelas notified research project leader Walter Sakai, a biology professor at Santa Monica College, who thanked him for the find. Where exactly was it tagged? At Santa Barbara's Ellwood Main, located just west of the UC Santa Barbara campus in Goleta. In a letter to Kareofelas, Sakai wrote: “This is the furthest distance a tagged migrating monarch has traveled from our 1996-97 tagging effort. The second furthest was to Groveland near Yosemite. This recovery will be one piece of the puzzle in understanding the spring migration phenomenon of monarch butterflies."
Meanwhile, the Pacific Northwest monarch migration to coastal California continues through the end of October. Keep a lookout for a WSU-tagged monarch. If you find one (and be sure to photograph it, if you can) contact James at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But at least we know he hails from Ashland.
That's what we learned about the male monarch that fluttered into our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. on Monday, Sept. 5 (Labor Day) on his way to an overwintering site along the California coast.
The tag read "email@example.com," and serial number "A6093," which ties the butterfly to a research project led by Washington State University entomologist David James. He maintains a network of Pacific Northwest citizen scientists who rear, tag and release monarchs.
When I wrote a Bug Squad blog on Oct. 17, 2014 about James' work, encouraging folks to be on the lookout for WSU-tagged monarchs, I figured I'd never see one. Not me. Not ever. And then it happened. A6093 dropped down for some flight fuel.
His presence was pure serendipity for several reasons: (1) I had earlier written about James' work; (2) I'm a WSU grad--"Go Cougars!" and (3) I rear monarchs for conservation purposes (40 so far this season).
So, on Labor Day, I happened to be hanging out in our 600-square-foot pollinator garden, the ever-present camera strapped around my neck, when I spotted a white-tagged monarch 15 feet away. I edged closer (three feet and 10 inches, to be exact), and photographed serendipity.
It was a good day to hang out with a marvelous, magnificent monarch linked to my alma mater and an insect that matters. And I did.
The fellow that reared him was Steve Johnson of Ashland, Ore., a member of the Southern Oregon Monarchs Advocates (SOMA). He tagged him and released him on Sunday, Aug. 28. "So, assuming it didn't travel much on the day you saw it, it flew 285 miles in 7 days or about 40.7 miles per day," WSU entomologist David James told me on Sept. 6. "Pretty amazing. So, I doubt he broke his journey for much more than the five hours you watched him--he could be 100 miles further south by now. Clearly, this male is on his way to an overwintering colony and it's possible we may sight him again during the winter in Santa Cruz or Pacific Grove!”
What a traveler! Let's see, by car it's 410 miles from Ashland to the overwintering site of Santa Cruz. It's 451 miles from Ashland to Pacific Grove. And it's about 113 miles from Vacaville to Santa Cruz. I can get lost in a five-mile range.
After posting a Bug Squad blog on the migrating monarch, I received a delightful email from Steve Johnson, with the subject line “I am the tagger!”
Omigosh! The tagger!
“I am so glad that my progeny, A6093, made it to Vacaville,” he began. “I have released about 80 monarchs thus far this season and have tagged about 30." This is his first year to tag. Some were raised from eggs while others were collected as caterpillars from native milkweed on a five-acre parcel outside of Ashland (a parcel that includes 2.5 acres of vineyards). Some were reared at his home in Ashland.
"Since that time, the population has exploded on the property. That fall, we found a large caterpillar in the vineyard and just put a fire pit screen over it to protect it. Well, it made its chrysalis on the screen and we moved it to our greenhouse since it was starting to get cool in October. After 21 days it eclosed and we released it at the very end of October. We seriously considered driving it to Redding because of the pending forecast for an early winter-type storm!”
Yes, "monarch parents" are dedicated!
So last year Steve and Laurel began collecting caterpillars from the five acres and rearing them in commercially available cages. And, with the seed they collected in her vineyards and gardens, they also planted showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) in large pots at his house in town. They released 85 monarchs last year.
This spring, he and Laurel planted more seed at his house in town, both in pots and in the ground. The old adage, "plant it and they will come," rang true. The monarchs came!
“Although the butterflies were not numerous, a few females loved to lay their eggs in the potted milkweed and we probably collected as many caterpillars/eggs on the 1/3 acre in town as we did on the five acres in the vineyard," Johnson related. "For some reason there are far fewer butterflies and caterpillars on the five acres this year as compared to last year. In fact, right now, we are only seeing occasional migrants nectaring on our butterfly wall. We had days where we would see 8-10 monarchs skittering about the vineyard and gardens but not close to what we had last year. In town, in addition, we planted heartleaf milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) and despite its small size in the first year we collected a few caterpillars from this beautiful species.”
Give a lot of credit to the Southern Oregon Monarchs Advocates (SOMA), formed in 2014, and to its leader Tom Landis. Last year SOMA reared and released more than 2000 monarchs as part of the WSU project. "This year we're putting more emphasis on controlled rearing in schools and have over a half-dozen schools in northern California and southern Oregon participating," said Landis, who worked at a Forest Service nursery in Colorado and then served as an Extension agent for nurseries across the west. "My primary focus has been monarchs and milkweeds workshops (67 so far) and creating pollinator habitat with monarch way stations."
Meanwhile, WSU entomologist David James continues his monarch research. In his "Annual Project Progress Report for 2015: Developing an Understanding of Monarch Butterfly Breeding and Migration Biology in the Pacific Northwest," the associate professor wrote that "with assistance from inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, a total of 1487 monarchs were reared, tagged and released from Walla Walla, Yakima and Prosser during August and September. An additional 1400 monarchs were reared and tagged by citizen science collaborators in Oregon, Idaho and Nevada. Nineteen fall migrants were tagged at Lower Crab Creek. Thus, a grand total of 2906 monarchs were tagged during late summer and fall 2015 in the Pacific Northwest. At the time of writing (February 2016), 16 tagged monarchs have been recovered at distances greater than 50 miles from the release location, mostly in overwintering colonies on the California coast. The longest distance traveled was 775 miles by 2 males released at Walla Walla and Pasco found in the same overwintering colony at Morro Bay, CA. "
His project goals and objectives are five-fold:
- To determine the phenology and ecology of monarch butterfly breeding in eastern Washington.
- To determine migration directions, routes and destinations used by summer and autumn monarch butterfly generations in the Pacific Northwest.
- To determine the environmental cues responsible for inducing reproductive dormancy and migratory behavior in Pacific Northwest monarch butterflies.
- To engage incarcerated citizens at the Washington State Penitentiary in scientific research with demonstrable social and educational benefits to themselves and the corrections community.
- To provide scientific information needed for development of effective and targeted nectar and host plant conservation strategies along monarch butterfly migration corridors
As for Steve Johnson, it's really a small world. The "Monarch Dad" is connected to UC Davis and the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). His late father, Walter Johnson, a UC Davis grad, served as a UC Extension agent for 40 plus years in Alameda, Placer and Shasta counties. A brother and two nephews are also UC Davis grads.
As for A6093, we're all wondering where he is now. Johnson quipped that maybe the monarch needs a name instead of a number. Maybe the name of a vineyard? It's possible A6093 came from an egg or a caterpillar in a vineyard that Banke leased to Eliana Wines. "The owner has a small tasting room on the property (on Gaerky Creek Road) where the tasters can sit out and watch the monarchs," Johnson noted. The owner, determined to evoke the elegance of the wine, named his wine Eliana, which in Hebrew and Romance languages means "God has answered."
This is for certain: A6093 was born in Ashland: either in town or in a vineyard just outside of town. He was tagged and released from town.
Meanwhile, keep an eye open for WSU-tagged monarchs. Their migration will continue through Northern California to coastal California until the end of October, James said. Then in February, the monarchs will leave their overwintering sites and head inland.
Let's hope that A6093 or Eliana will be one of them.
It's just been announced that the Western Apicultural Society (WAS), founded 40 years ago at UC Davis, will be meeting ...drum roll...Sept. 5-7, 2017 in Davis, Calif.
That's the kind of advance notice we like.
Fortieth anniversary? Is that possible? It is. The group traces its beginnings back to 1977 and founders Norm Gary, UC Davis professor of entomology and noted bee wrangler; newly hired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen; and Becky Westerdahl, who had just received her doctorate in biology/nematology from UC Riverside. Both Gary and Mussen are retired. (Don't mention the "R" word to them, though! Mussen continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis, and Gary is a jazz musician who keeps busy playing the "B" or "Bee" flat clarinet, among other instruments.) Westerdahl went on to become an Extension nematologist, based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Mussen will serve as the program coordinator for the 2017 event, to be held in the Activities and Recreational Center (ARC) on campus. He is already planning a program that will showcase the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, and the adjacent Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Meanwhile, WAS will be meeting in a few weeks--Oct. 13-15--in Honolulu. Two of the speakers are from UC Davis: Eric Mussen, who will discuss pesticides; and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, an expert in queen breeding.
What's WAS all about? Mussen, a five-time president, remembers hammering out the mission with his colleagues: "WAS is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization founded in 1978 for the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America. Membership is encouraged from anywhere in the world. However, the organization is specifically designed to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming as well as the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Yukon." Current president is Ethel Villalobos of Hawaii. Niño serves as the second vice president.
The entire country--indeed the entire world--is worried about bee health and the declining bee population. The United States has about 2.6 million colonies, Mussen says, while the number of colonies in California is approximately half a million.
Indeed, Davis, Calif. is the place to "bee" Sept. 5-7, 2017.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology has announced the list of speakers for the fall seminars. Agricultural entomologist and seminar coordinator Christian Nansen said the topics include everything from soapberry bugs to monarchs.
Instead of the previous noon-hour seminars, however, there's a change in the time: they're from 4:10 to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays in Room 122 of Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive.
Doctoral candidate Meredith Cenzer will speak on "Ecological and Evolutionary Interactions Between Soapberry Bugs (Jadera Haematoloma) and Their Host Plants" at the next UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar, set from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 in 122 Briggs Hall. This is her exit seminar.
Soapberry bugs are a classic evolutionary example of how rapidly insects can switch hosts, adapting from a native to an invasive plant, she says.
Her newly published UC Davis research shows that soapberry bugs have not only lost adaptations to their native host plant but are regionally specializing on an invasive host. (Read about her latest publication here.)
The October-November schedule:
Wednesday, Oct. 5:
Meredith Cenzer, doctoral candidate, Louie Yang lab
Topic: ""Ecological and Evolutionary Interactions Between Soapberry Bugs (Jadera Haematoloma) and Their Host Plants" (exit seminar)
Wednesday, Oct. 12:
Howard Ferris, professor of nematology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Topic: "Roles of Nematodes in Soil Ecology and Soil Health"
Wednesday, Oct. 19
Justin Whitehall, postdoctoral research associate
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Topic: "Carbon Castles and the Physical Defense of Conifers Against Insect Invaders"
Wednesday, Oct. 26
Marek Borowiec, doctoral candidate, Phil Ward lab
Topic: "Genomic Data and the Tree of Life: Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, and Unknown Unknowns of Army Ant Evolution" (exit seminar)
Wednesday, Nov. 2
Sandy Olkowski, doctoral candidate, lab of Thomas Scott (now emeritus professor of entomology)
"Temporal Inconsistency of Dengue Fever Surveillance in Iquitos, Peru" (exit seminar)
Wednesday, Nov. 9
Hugh Dingle, emeritus professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Topic:"Monarchs in the Pacific: Contemporary Evolution or Local Ecology?"
Wednesday, Nov. 16
Diane Ullman, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Topic: "Thrips Salivary Glands: The Relevance of Tissue Tropism and Gene Expression to Tospovirus"
Wednesday, Nov. 30
Phil Ward, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Topic: "Exploring the Ant Tree-of-Life"
Nearly 90 butterfly enthusiasts--from senior citizens to pre-schoolers--met up with entomologist Joel Hernandez last Sunday for his second annual talk and tour on "Butterflies Up Close," sponsored by the UC Davis Arboretum.
Hernandez, who has collected and curated insects for 19 years, told of his passion for Lepitoptera, the order of insects that includes butterflies and moths. "What draws me to butterflies," he said, "is the plethora of different colors and patterns that they display on their wings, as well as their life cycle.”
A 2014 graduate of UC Davis with a bachelor of science degree in entomology, Hernandez currently works for chemical ecologist Steve Seybold as a research/field assistant, and plans to enroll in graduate school.
Hernandez displayed butterfly and moth specimens from his California and Belize collections. His favorite butterfly? The blue morpho, Morpho peleides, a tropical butterfly with wings spanning five to eight inches.
As the tour members left the Wyatt Deck, walking along a shaded path and emerging into the sunlight to a milkweed patch, Hernandez pointed out butterflies and other insects along the way.
Butterflies sighted included:
Monarch, gray hairstreak, Acmon blue, fiery skipper, dusky wing skipper, cabbage white, West Coast lady, gulf fritillary, pygmy blue, Western tiger swallowtail and buckeye.
Tour member Ria de Grassi of Davis checked out the insect activity on the showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, noting lady beetles, bees and aphids, but no monarch eggs or caterpillars. A new "Monarch Mom," she recently planted milkweed and is beginning to rear a few monarchs for conservation purposes.
The group saw no monarchs but did see other butterflies, including a gray hairstreak, Strymon melinus.
Following the tour, many participants headed for the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house, featuring the Belize collecting trip.