Well, some folks call it "bug porn" and some call it a "two-for" images--two insects in one photo. But in this case, this was a "three-for" image. A honey bee nectaring on the nearby lavender photobombed my image and the mating pair, still attached, clumsily fluttered off in a four-wing attempt. Appropriately enough, they headed over to the pasionflower vine, their host plant
We recall butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, telling us several years ago that the showy reddish-orange butterfly is making a comeback in the Sacramento-Davis area. In the early 1970s, it was considered extinct in that area.
“It first appeared in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s,” he related in a previous Bug Squad blog. “It spread through Southern California in urban settings and was first recorded in the Bay Area about 1908. It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since.”
Shapiro says it “apparently bred in the Sacramento area and possibly in Davis in the 1960s, becoming extinct in the early 1970s, then recolonizing again throughout the area since 2000.”
One of the Gulf Frit's favorite nectar sources is lantana (genus Lantana, family Verbenaceae.) In our yard they also lean toward the lavender and Tithonia.
There, on appropriate occasions, they like a little privacy.
Never say "pipe down" to a pipevine swallowtail.
It's a butterfly we treasure.
You may have seen it nectaring on your butterfly bush. It's black with blue iridescent upper wings and orange arrowhead-like spots on its inner wings.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says on his website, Art's Butterfly World, that Battus philenor is "unmistakable and very conspicuous as both a larva and an adult."
So are the eggs. The eggs are red or rust-colored, while the larvae or caterpillars are black with red spots.
Shapiro describes Battus philenor as "the signature riparian butterfly of our region, occurring along streams in foothill canyons and on the Central Valley floor, essentially everywhere where its only host plant, California pipevine or Dutchman's pipe, Aristolochia californica, occurs."
The butterfly, also nicknamed "blue swallowtail," is found throughout North America and Central America.
"Adults are eager visitors to many flowers, including wild radish, California buckeye, blue dicks, Ithuriel's spear, and Yerba Santa," according to Shapiro. "In summer they regularly nectar at yellow starthisle when there are no native plants in bloom."
"This species is warningly colored and inedible to vertebrate predators," Shapiro writes. "It derives its protection from the toxic aristolochic acids produced by the host, which it sequesters; females even pass these along to the eggs, which are also protected (and are brick red, laid in bunches of up to 20, and quite conspicuous). Eggs are laid only on young, tender, growing shoot tips and the larvae must begin by feeding on these. Initially they feed in groups. As they get larger they scatter and can tackle large, mature leaves. But because these react to feeding damage by becoming more toxic and unpalatable, a larva will feed on a single leaf only for a short time and then has to move on. Eventually most or all leaves end up damaged, but few are badly damaged. The larvae also feed eagerly on the immature fruits, which look like small bananas with fluted edges. In big swallowtail years little if any seed ends up being set."
The adults live about a month.
So, let's enjoy them while we can! We followed this one around on our butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) this afternoon as the sun dipped low in the sky. Usually, we see only the side view, but this one provided a dorsal view, flashing its colors.
Blue. Brilliant blue. iridescent blue.
Is any other blue so glorious?
This is a a story about a spider and a skipper.
The garden spider lies in wait, its head down, clinging to its real estate, an enormous sticky web. A male skipper flits from Tithonia to Tithonia, sipping nectar. Then the skipper makes a fatal mistake; it tries to pass through the nearly invisible web.
If you combine a very sticky web with a very hungry spider and an inattentive butterfly, the results are not good for the butterfly.
It's over within seconds. The spider bites the skipper, paralyzing it with its powerful venom, and then wraps it for a later meal.
The drama all unfolds in our "bee" garden but today it's a "spider" garden. Predator vs. prey. The spider eats today.
On his website, UC Davis butterfly Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, describes the fiery skipper as "California's most urban butterfly, almost limited to places where people mow lawns. Its range extends to Argentina and Chile and it belongs to a large genus which is otherwise entirely Andean. Its North American range may be quite recent. Here in California, the oldest Bay Area record is only from 1937. At any rate, it is multiple-brooded, and appears to experience heavy winter-kill in most places; scarce early in the season, it spreads out from local places where it survived, gradually reoccupying most of its range by midsummer and achieving maximum abundance in September and October.
The fiery skipper "occasionally colonizes upslope to about 3000' in the Gold Country but does not seem to survive the winter; strays have been taken to 7000' and on the East slope," Shapiro says. The butterfly breeds mostly on Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) and "the adults swarm over garden flowers such as lantana, verbena, zinnias, marigolds, buddleia. And in the wild they're quite happy with yellow starthistle."
As for the banded garden spider, BugGuide.net offers this identification: "Pale yellow, carapace has silver hairs, abdomen is striped in silver, yellow, and black...Its legs are spotted."
Yes, they are.
That would be the cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae.
Its larvae or cabbageworms are pests of our cole crops, including cabbage, kale and mustard.
Pests? You bet.
According to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) Program, the caterpillars "feed voraciously on both the outer and inner leaves, often feeding along the midrib, at the base of the wrapper leaves, or boring into the heads of cabbage. After 2 to 3 weeks of feeding, larvae pupate attached by a few strands of silk to stems or other nearby objects; pupae are green with faint yellow lines down the back and sides; there is no spun cocoon. The adult cabbage butterfly is white with one to four black spots on the wings; they are often seen fluttering around the fields. The whitish, rocket-shaped eggs are laid singly on the undersides of leaves."
Furthermore, UC IPM points out in its Pest Management guidelines, "the cabbageworm is active throughout the year in California."
So, what good are they?
Well, National Public Radio says we should thank them. In a piece titled "Why You Should Thank A Caterpillar For Your Mustard And Wasabi," NPR author Jessica Rack relates that the caterpillars are responsible for the exquisite, pungent taste of wasabi and mustard. Basically, they are the engine that drives the plants to make the chemicals in these substances that we find so tasty.
Scientists published their work this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Plant evolutionary biologist Chris Pires of the University of Missouri, a lead author of the study, compared the evolution of taste to a military arms race or what Rack described as "repeated escalations to have better weapons or defenses — but on an epic timescale."
"In this case, the opposing armies are caterpillars of the cabbage butterfly and plants in the order Brassicales, which today includes cabbage, horseradish, kale and mustard," wrote Rack.
Ironically, in another paper, this one published Aug. 10 in the journal, Nature Climate Change, scientists are worried that the cabbage white butterfly might go extinct in the UK because these are drought-sensitive butterflies. The paper, titled "Interacting Effects of Climate Change and Habitat Fragmentation on Drought-Sensitive Butterflies," should draw a lot of attention.
Pieris rapae already does in central California. Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, annually conducts a contest involving the cabbage white. The first person to find the first cabbage white of the year in the three county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano wins a pitcher of beer. A beer for a butterfly.
The contest, launched in 1972, is all part of Shapiro's four-decade study of climate and butterfly seasonality. “It is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter. Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20.”
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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.