The "Painted Ladies" are back in the Davis area.
These are not the two-legged type, but the winged type--Vanessa cardui.
They're migrating and driving UC Davis entomology and ecology students nuts. It's finals week and they'd love to be outdoors watching the migration instead of inside studying for their tests.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, said that on Tuesday, March 17, St. Patrick's Day, "the front of a significant Painted Lady migration hit Davis about 7:30 this morning. I saw about 30 just in walking from Storer Hall to the Memorial Union bus terminal.
Shapiro then went to Gates Canyon, Vacaville, one of his field study sites, and saw more. It was 77 degrees at Gates Canyon (sorry, Bostonians!). He saw PLs all the way. He counted 81 in the canyon "but the apparent density in the open--Pleasants Valley, Vacaville--was much higher, with about 6 per minute in my field of vision."
"I imagine many were going over my head out of sight at Gates. Back in Davis I was seeing 10 per minute. This is about 1/6 of the density during the legendary 2005 migration."
"They are ALL large, fresh-looking, and on a solid SE-NW course, as usual stopping for nothing and going up and over all obstacles; very few are nectaring. We'll see how long it lasts! The condition suggests these are the offspring of a first round of breeding somewhere in Southern California--not direct from the deserts. We have an exceptional crop of milk thistle (Silybum) this year. May their offspring eat it all!"
You can read about the 2005 migration on Sharpiro's butterfly site. "This mass-migrant occurs in much of the Northern Hemisphere," he wrote. "Apparently the entire North American population winters near the US-Mexico border, breeding in the desert after the winter rains generate a crop of annual Malvaceous, Boraginaceous and Asteraceous hosts. The resulting butterflies migrate north."
Painted Ladies on the move. Painted Ladies everywhere. And more on the way. Life is good!
He's never seen anything like it.
A pink cabbage white butterfly? Pieris rapae are not pink--they're white
Yet there it was, flying around Cypress Lane in West Davis around noon Thursday, March 15. It was sporting a new do, a strange pinkish/red hue.
"When I looked at it closely, I could see it had been 'sprayed' with a red color both top and bottom," said Greg Kareofelas, who wears several hats (he's an associate of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology; a naturalist who specializes in butterflies and dragonflies; and a photographer).
He shot out an email query, "Who's making pink rapae?"
"Someone COULD be trying to trace movements by making individuals highly visible, but I certainly haven't heard of it," replied butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis who maintains Art's Butterfly World. It is Shapiro who conducts the annual "Beer for a Butterfly Contest," offering a pitcher of beer for the first Pieris rapae of the year in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano. (Hint: they're always white.)
"Looks to me like someone's doing a mark and recapture," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and a UC Davis professor of entomology. "I haven't heard of any project, though."
Meanwhile the pink rapae remains a mystery. An escapee from a lab? Part of a high school science project? The work of a prankster with leftover spray paint? A cucurbits project?
Anyone out there missing a pink rapae?
And we have a winner!
Drum roll...Art Shapiro...
Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, who sponsors the annual Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest to collect scientific data, snagged the first cabbage white butterfly of the year at 12:30 p.m.. Monday, Jan. 26 in West Sacramento, Yolo County.
“The cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) finally came out today (Jan. 26),” he said.
And, it's a boy!
Shapiro figured this would be the day. Sunshine filtered through the high clouds in the morning, so it was relatively warm when Shapiro set out at 11.15 a.m. for a mustard patch near the railroad tracks. In fact, he was so “sufficiently sure” that Monday would be the day that he took his net “and was prepared to sweep the vegetation with it to kick up any individuals that were sunbathing (“dorsal basking”) in the dilute sunlight in order to raise their body temperature to the level needed for flight.”
But that wasn't necessary. “The sun came out strongly at 12.11 and the butterfly, a male, took wing spontaneously 19 minutes later,“ he related. ““It was a very easy catch; I suspect he emerged this morning (Jan. 26) and that was his first flight.”
Shapiro has sponsored the contest since 1972 to determine when the cabbage white will first emerge in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano. It's all part of his 43-year study of climate and butterfly seasonality. “It is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter.”
Although the first flight of the cabbage white has been as late as Feb. 22, it is emerging earlier and earlier as the regional climate has warmed, said Shapiro. “There have been only two occasions in the 21stcentury in which it has come out this late: Jan 26, 2006 and Jan 31, 2011.
“It's obvious that a dry January doesn't guarantee an early emergence!” Shapiro said. ”The very wet December of 2014 laid the groundwork for tule fog this month, which we hadn't really seen since the drought began. The cold, foggy weather certainly played a role in delaying emergence.”
Ten minutes after collecting the cabbage white, a second species, the mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) showed up. “It hibernates as an adult and is always an early flier, but this was its first record on the floor of the Sacramento Valley this year—it's been out about two weeks in the lower Coast Range,” Shapiro said.
Five minutes later, at 12.45, a third species showed up: a male fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) that landed momentarily literally at Shapiro's feet. It was the earliest he's ever recorded. “This is a much more significant record than the others,” he said, explaining that the fiery skipper “normally is first recorded around here in March or even April. Last year it set a new early record in the Valley—Feb. 21, in Rancho Cordova, Sacramento County.—the only February Valley record in our 43-year database. It was last seen in 2014 on Dec. 1, also in Rancho Cordova. However, there are two January records at the Suisun Marsh, Solano County: Jan. 3, 1996 and Jan. 28, 2000.
Of the fiery skipper, Shapiro noted: “The first was certainly a late carryover of the fall 1995 brood, which was still flying on Dec. 14. “ The species wasn't seen again until the start of the spring brood on March 31, 1996. The 2000 record is more ambiguous. The last Suisun sighting in 1999 was on Dec. 11 and the first spring sighting was very late, May 24, 2000.
“The last fall-brood sighting of the fiery skipper was on Nov. 9, 2014, making it exceedingly unlikely that this was a late individual from that brood,” Shapiro said.
In 2014, Shapiro netted the winning cabbage white butterfly at 12:20 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14 in West Sacramento, Yolo County. It ranked as "the fifth or sixth earliest since 1972.”
Shapiro has won the contest every year except three. Graduate student Adam Porter defeated him in 1983; and graduate students Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s.
The contest rules specify that it be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae and that it be captured outdoors. It must be live when delivered to the department office, 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis.
Shapiro has monitored central California's butterfly populations for 43 years and posts information on his website.
Butterflies draw smiles instead of scowls, pleasure instead of pain, glee instead of grief.
So, here's Part 1 of the good news. You still have a chance to win the Beer-for-a-Butterfly contest. No one has come forth in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano to deliver the first cabbage white butterfly of the new year to Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. If you collect the first one of 2015 and you're the verified winner, you'll receive a pitcher of beer or its equivalent.
Shapiro, who usually wins his own Beer-for-a-Butterfly contest, hasn't found one either. Every day has amounted to a "No Fly Day" and a "No Beer Day."
Reports are surfacing that the cabbage whites (Pieris rapae) are flying in Santa Rosa, but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), Santa Rosa is in Sonoma County, not in Sacramento, Yolo or Solano counties.
Shapiro has sponsored the annual contest since 1972. It's all part of his 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." Shapiro says his long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate "are especially important to help us understand biological responses to climate change. The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here."
Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, knows where and when to look. In fact, he's been defeated only three times since 1972, and all by his graduate students. Adam Porter defeated him in 1983; and Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s.
In 2014, Shapiro netted the winning butterfly at 12:20 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14 in West Sacramento, Yolo County. It ranked as "the fifth or sixth earliest since 1972.
The contest rules include:
- It must be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae) and be captured outdoors.
- It must be brought in alive to the department office, 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis, during work hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with the full data (exact time, date and location of the capture) and your name, address, phone number and/or e-mail. The receptionist will certify that it is alive and refrigerate it. (If you collect it on a weekend or holiday, keep it in a refrigerator; do not freeze. A few days in the fridge will not harm it.)
- Shapiro is the sole judge.
Part 2 of the good news about butterflies: a mid-winter gathering of Northern California Lepidopterists and the Bohart Museum of Entomology will take place at an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 31 in the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. Hosts are Bohart senior museum scientist-entomologist Steve Heydon and entomologists John De Benedictis and Jeff Smith.
Lepidopterists are researchers or hobbyists who specialize in the study of butterflies and moths in the order Lepitopdera.
All interested persons are encouraged to bring specimens, photos, PowerPoint presentations or slides from collecting trips and tales of collecting triumphs to share with others. Butterfly t-shirts and other entomological merchandise are available from the gift shop.
The museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens, and is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. It was founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007).
For more information on the mid-winter gathering of lepitopterists, contact Steve Heydon at (530) 752-0493 or email@example.com.
Meanwhile, The Great White Cabbage Butterfly Hunt is still underway. Can you find one before Art Shapiro does?
Reporter Lizzie Wade, Science's Latin America correspondent based in Mexico City, led with: "It started with the best of intentions. When evidence emerged that monarch butterflies were losing the milkweed they depend on due to the spread of herbicide-resistant crops in the United States, people across the country took action, planting milkweed in their own gardens. But a new paper shows that well-meaning gardeners might actually be endangering the butterflies' iconic migration to Mexico. That's because people have been planting the wrong species of milkweed, thereby increasing the odds of monarchs becoming infected with a crippling parasite."
Wade pointed out that "tropical milkweed—at least when planted in warm environments like southern Texas and the U.S. Gulf Coast—doesn't die back in the winter like native milkweed does. When presented with a place to lay their eggs year-round, many monarchs don't bother making the trip to Mexico at all." Some think the year-round tropical milkweed is "an even more direct threat to the butterflies. Milkweed hosts a protozoan parasite called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE). As caterpillars, monarchs ingest the parasite along with their normal milkweed meals, and when they hatch from their chrysalises they are covered in spores."
She quoted a butterfly scientist as saying that infected monarchs are much weaker than their healthy counterparts and don't live nearly as long. And if an OE-infected monarch tries to migrate, it will probably die long before it arrives in central Mexico, she wrote.
Shapiro has been monitoring and studying populations of butterflies in central California for more than four decades and posts the information on his website. In an email response to inquiries from a UC Master Gardener and Farm Advisor (initially sent my way), wrote: “The story is basically correct, but there has to be more to it. Monarchs are normally in 'reproductive diapause' in winter, which means their sex organs and sex drive are inactive; this condition (as in migratory birds) is believed to be induced by seasonal day-length changes. We never used to get attempted winter breeding. Tropical milkweed has been in gardens in California for decades, but only very recently are we seeing attempted winter breeding, first in Southern California and now in the Bay Area. Many of us would like to understand why these animals are NOT in diapause! There have been unexplained changes in the seasonal geography of monarch breeding: for example, here in the Sacramento Valley, there is now virtually no spring breeding (as before) but tons of fall breeding (which didn't use to happen; the animals migrating coastwise were generally in reproductive diapause)."
The reference to OE is correct, Shapiro said. "However, there is an easy 'fix' that nobody talks about for some reason: just cut the plants to the ground a few times a year. This will encourage new growth, which will be cleaner, prettier, more nutritious, and uncontaminated with OE. There is nothing inherently 'bad' about winter breeding if it's clean. Infected winter breeding is a population sink. The animals are often too feeble to fly, and may be unable to expand their wings. But perfectly healthy ones are being produced right now in the East Bay on clean plants."
Many of the public comments that people posted about the research, Shapiro said, show a large amount of ignorance. “Observation: the commonest eastern (Asclepias syriaca complex) and Californian (A. fascicularis) milkweeds are usually almost if not quite non-toxic, which means the monarchs that feed on them will be edible to birds. If you want to breed monarchs as bird food, by all means plant those! But if you want to breed nasty monarchs that will make birds vomit and never try one again, plant one of the more toxic species! There is no good evidence that the females discriminate between high-and low-cardenolide milkweeds, or that larvae do better on one than on the other. There is no garden equivalent of "one size fits all." You want to use species that make sense where you are located! That's what gardening 'zones' are there for...The genus Asclepias extends south to Argentina (the s-most species, A. mellodora, is the major host of the South American Monarch, Danaus erippus) so yes, there are milkweeds in Mexico…. There are so many resources readily available, but people are lazy, don't know how to search properly, or prefer to create their own 'facts' a la Fox News...it gets discouraging. God bless Master Gardeners and Farm Advisers!”