For the last several months, we've seen monarchs laying eggs on our narrow-leafed milkweed.
A daily check yielded "zero" caterpillars. Zero. Nada. Zilch. One reason is apparent: two nearby nests of Western scrub jays filled with chirping babies. Birds aren't known for eating a large quantity of monarch caterpillars--they don't taste good--but they will still eat a few.
They didn't eat this one.
It was tucked away, hidden from sight. Then we found another caterpillar, also hidden.
In the interests of conservation--and to prevent predation--we placed them inside our indoor butterfly habitat, purchased last year from the gift shop at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, the University of California, Davis.
The rest, as they say, is history and herstory. A male eclosed from the first chrysalis, and a female from the second.
It's one of Nature's miracles. From an egg, to a caterpillar to a chrysalis to an adult Danaus plexippus.
One week, it's a hungry fifth-instar caterpillar...then it's a gold-dotted, jade-green chrysalis, a joy to see. When the chrysalis turns transparent, you can make out the colorful butterfly inside--Nature's gift that's soon to eclose.
From chrysalis to adult, the male took 10 days.
From chrysalis to adult, the female took 9 days.
We've already released the male. He soared high into the sky, at least 80 feet, and headed for an oak tree as a Western scrub jay eyed him. Whew! The predator did not pursue him.
The second monarch, the female, just eclosed this afternoon. It's Freedom Day tomorrow.
So here's this hungry male monarch butterfly sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia "Torch").
He's sipping, sipping, sipping. He's minding his own business. He's tending to his own needs. It's a good day in the pollinator garden.
Suddenly a bulletlike object dive-bombs his head. It returns and dive-bombs his wings. It returns again and dive-bombs his feet.
"Hey, this is my territory. I am claiming all of the Tithonia. I'm saving it for my ladies. Move!"
It's a male longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis. It's also known as an "agile longhorned bee." Agile? Because it is.
The territorial battle continues. Two boys, two different insect species, each trying to claim "The Torch."
Finally, the monarch lifts off and flutters over to another blossom.
"Hey, that's mine, too!"
What a great idea!
The Horticulture Innovation Lab Demonstration Center on the UC Davis campus is spearheading a "Pitch & Plant Gardening Contest." They're looking for folks to (1) pitch an idea for a raised bed and (2) plant it and nurture it from summer into fall.
The project is geared for the UC Davis community but folks outside the campus can also apply, according to program officer Britta Hansen of the Horticulture Innovation Lab. “I would say that preference will be given to UC Davis students, staff and faulty but we are open to non-affiliated individuals using the space.”
"We're looking for some bright minds and green thumbs to fill the raised beds with interesting plants," she said. "We have four raised beds available, each 8.5 x 4 feet in dimension, ready for up to four ideas. Planting and garden maintenance would be from July 18 up to the end of October."
This is a fast-moving contest, with a pending deadline. So email your 3-slide PowerPoint pitch for what you want to plant by Friday, July 1, to Britta Hansen at email@example.com. The rules? Download PDF. Finalists will be asked to pitch their ideas in person the week of July 11-15.
The Horticulture Innovation Lab Demonstration Center currently displays vegetables from Africa and Asia, along with agricultural tools that small-scale farmers use in other countries. The location is at http://campusmap.ucdavis.edu/?l=860
Meanwhile, they offer a potpourri of ideas. Would you…
- plant a salsa garden?
- grow eggplants in all shapes and sizes?
- compare chili peppers to find the spiciest?
- test different types of mulch for keeping soil moist?
An added incentive: the demonstration center will provide materials, including seeds from their collection (or they may purchase them for you) and basic gardening tools.
Note that this isn't an income-producing plot. You won't get paid but you'll have the pleasure of planting and tending your own little garden, your very own Happy Place. And you can take home or consume what you grow. Estimated time required per week? Two to five hours.
Hmm…I wonder how many suggestions might include planting squash, cucumber and other cucurbits? Those would not only yield nutritious vegetables but attract the squash bees and other pollinators. And the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) would be a good draw for bees, butterflies and other insects.
Plant it and they will come.
The garden that bears her name in the UC Davis Arboretum is Nature at its Best, especially this time of year.
It's better known as the Storer Garden, but a plaque spells out the entire name, "Dr. Ruth Risdon Storer Garden."
It was dedicated to her on her 92nd birthday, on Feb. 25, 1980.
Who was she?
- The first woman physician on the UC Davis campus
- The first woman pediatrician practicing in Yolo County
- A dedicated member of the Friends of the Arboretum
- An alumnus of the University of California
- The wife of Tracy Irwin Storer, a UC alumnus and founding chair of the UC Davis Department of Zoology. Storer Hall is named for him.
- A philanthropist: she and her husband founded the Storer Endowment in Life Sciences.
The plaque also points out that she was "well known for her own beautiful garden and generously sharing their beauty and her knowledge."
Today is Friday of National Pollinator Week. At noon, we headed over to the Storer Garden on Garrod Drive. A graceful and generous lavender butterfly bush--reminiscent of Dr. Storer--was accepting all visitors: six-legged Western tiger swallowtails, monarchs, painted ladies, cabbage whites, honey bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees and assorted two-legged visitors. No reservations needed.
The showy Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) fluttered, floated, sailed and soared. Her brilliant colors--yellow and black with a splash of blue--lit up the garden. No sun needed--not with the glorious colors of the Western tiger swallowtail around.
If any insect should be the "cover girl" during National Pollinator Week, it ought to be the honey bee (Apis mellifera)
Specifically, it should be the worker bee, although the queen bee and drones (males) have their place, too.
But it's the worker bee, the forager, that basically works herself to death. She's out gathering nectar, pollen, propolis and water for her colony. She never calls in sick. She never punches a time card. She never protests. As soon as the temperature hits around 55 degrees, she leaves the warmth of the hive to go to work.
She might not return. She may run into pesticides, pests or predators (think spiders, praying mantids, wasps, birds and the like). She may wind up spending the night on a lavender blossom when it's too cold or too dark to return to the hive. She may have to fly five miles on ragged wings and in ragged weather carrying a load heavier than she is.
Once inside, she shares her bounty with the colony. She dances to let her sisters know where she found it. This isn't America's Got Talent--these dances are not for money or fame, but for purpose. "Hey, I just found a large quantity of lavender about two miles away. It's great quality. Let's go get more."
Her weapon is her stinger, but she uses that only in defense of the hive, or when something crushes her (like a human being that accidentally steps on her). She can't be compared to an assault weapon such as an AR-15 that can shoot 25 rounds in 2.5 seconds. One sting and she dies. One barbed sting and it's all over for her.
And she's beautiful, whether she's golden, light brown or gray-black.
The Journal of Economic Entomology, published by the Entomological Society of America, graced its June cover with a honey bee. It's of a forager heading toward a tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii). The background: I captured the image several years ago in my pollinator garden in Vacaville, as I watched, awestruck, as the worker bees turned the tower of jewels into a buzzing tower of bees. Oh, sure, bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, sweat bees, syrphids, butterflies and hummingbirds were working the blossoms, too, but it was this determined worker bee that caught my eye.
She probably died several weeks after that flight photo. Honey bees live only four to six weeks during the busy season. The queen bee, an egg-laying machine that can pump out 2000 eggs a day, quickly replaced her.
For a moment, though, as the bee headed for the tower of jewels, time stopped. The worker bee did not.
Happy National Pollinator Week!