When you're chasing a tiger, you don't have to worry about the fangs or the claws.
No worries about this tiger. This tiger has wings.
If you head over to the Storer Garden at the UC Davis Arboretum, you'll see plenty of tigers, Western tiger swallowtail, on the dwarf plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides. The plumbago is an Arboretum All-Star. (The UC Davis Arboretum horticultural staff has singled out 100 tough, reliable plants as All-Stars; that is, they're "easy to grow, don't need a lot of water, have few problems with pests or diseases, and have outstanding qualities in the garden. Many of them are California native plants and support native birds and insects. Most All-Star plants can be successfully planted and grown throughout California.")
The Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) probably would consider the plumbago an All-Star, too, as it flutters around, sipping nectar and looking for a mate.
If you're lucky, you might be able to capture an image of the tiger next to the dwarf plumbago sign. Or, if you're really lucky, you might get two butterflies in one photo.
The Western tiger swallowtail is the kind of butterfly that takes your breath away; you tend to hold your breath while you're trying to hold onto a view of the tiger. It's a bit of flying sunshine in days darkened with trouble and turmoil.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, writes this about the tiger on his website (he's been monitoring the butterfly populations of Central California for more than 40 years): "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."
Shapiro says the tiger "visits Yerba Santa, California Buckeye, Milkweed, Dogbane, Lilies, Coyotemint" and frequents gardens for 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)."
On our block, we've seen the tiger flying around the sycamore and sweet gum. It then flutters over to our pollinator garden to sip nectar from the Buddleia (butterfly bush), Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) and Lantana.
This tiger has wings!
That may be how its name originated; someone corrupted "admirable" to "admiral."
And mistook "orange" for "red."
The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is not red: it's orange and black graced with orange bands and white spots. The undersides of the hindwings are not so colorful, with its brown-and-black camouflaged patterns.
Nevertheless, it's a gorgeous butterfly. It's found throughout North America from northern Canada to Central America, as well as throughout Europe, northern Africa and Eurasia. It's also located in Hawaii, New Zealand and some of the Caribbean Islands.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, who has studied the butterfly populations in Central California for more than four decades, says on his website that it's "one of the most frequently seen butterflies in midwinter at low elevation" and it's "often very common in the urban Bay Area," not to mention occurring "all around the Northern Hemisphere."
The colorful butterfly lays its eggs on nettles (family Urticaceae), including the stinging nettles, wood nettle and false nettle. Caterpillars feed on the nettles, while the adults sip nectar from such plants as Buddleia and Jupiter's Beard. They also feed on overripe fruit.
The Red Admiral sports a girl's name, Vanessa, for its genus, and Atalanta for its species. In Greek mythology, Atalanta is a strong woman who, according to Wikipedia, "faces obstacles and backlash for refusing to follow gender norms."
Gender norms? What's that? :)
Anyway, was the Vanessa atalanta that fluttered into our yard on May 9 facing some "gender norm" challenges when it nectared on Jupiter's Beard?
Nature isn't perfect, but neither are we!
Today we watched a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) laying eggs on her host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora) and another Gulf Fritillary nectaring on the nearby Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber). Ms. Gulf Frit looked quite discolored; she wasn't that showy orange butterfly that we're accustomed to seeing, but she was a good egg layer. She deposited eggs all over the Passiflora within a five-minute time spanm and then returned to lay more eggs.
A warm springlike day. A perfect day. A not-so-perfect butterfly.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis who has studied the butterfly population in Central California for more than four decades (see his website) says that the discoloration is "probably developmental rather than genetic."
"Rear some eggs," he says, and "see if anything odd results. These depigmentized bugs are seldom so symmetrical. Under a scope the depigmentized scales may be curly."
Time to rear some eggs and see what develops!
(Editor's Note: The UC Food Observer blog today featured Bug Squad. We are humbled!)
Today was a glorious day in the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden in the UC Davis Arboretum.
The scent of the Korean lilac, Syringa patula, drew several pipevine swallowtails (Battus philenor), their iridescent blue hind wings gleaming in the late morning sun.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, calls the pipevine swallowtail "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."
"This species is warningly colored and inedible to vertebrate predators," Shapiro writes on his website. "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)."
Shapiro notes that the pipevine swallowtail flies from late winter (February-March), to autumn (October, occasionally November) but is "much more numerous before the 4th of July than later."
The Korean lilac provides a great nectar source for the butterflies. This one in the Storer Garden is a good 10 feet all. Native to China and Korean, it's also known as "The Miss Kim Lilac," discovered by Elwyn Meador and reportedly named for his Korean assistant.
So today, the iridescent blue wings and the featherly purple blossoms collided in the air in the Storer Garden, with promises of more butterflies and blossoms to come.
Meanwhile, the UC Davis Arboretum officials are gearing up for their first public plant sale of the spring season. set Saturday, April 2 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive, right next to the Storer Garden. Check out the website for the list of plants available.
Okay, where are they?
Shouldn't they be emerging soon?
They're in Davis and Suisun. Why not Vacaville?
We've been waiting--not so patiently after this long winter--for the reappearance of the showy Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) on our passionflower vine (Passiflora).
On Saturday, March 26 (Easter weekend), a solo female fluttered into our yard and headed straight for the Passiflora. Not only did she reward us with our presence, but she laid several eggs, singly, on the leaves and tendrils. They're the size of a pinhead and look like pure gold. That's because they are.
Spring is a time of renewal, rejuvenation and rejoicing.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis who has monitored butterfly populations in Central California for more than four decades, saw his first Gulf Frit of the year on March 16 in Suisun. Read what he says about these brightly colored orange butterflies on his website.
Butterfly expert Greg Kareofelas, an associate at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, rescued a Gulf Frit larva from his Davis yard last winter and on March 17 watched the adult eclose from its chrysalis. Lately he's been on Butterfly Alert. He's spotted a number of Gulf Frits in his yard, including a female on March 26. His count includes other species as well, including a monarch and Western tiger swallowtails.
No monarch sightings for us yet, but one mourning cloak, two Western tiger swallowtails and two pipevine swallowtails.
Saturday's appearance of Mrs. Gulf Frit, however, was special. It was a day before Easter. Instead of a visit from the Easter Bunny delivering hen eggs, this was a visit from a Gulf Fritillary who graced us with several bonafide eggs. Her own.