This just in for Halloween!
Ever seen a false black widow spider?
Commonly known as the cupboard spider, it's a semi-cosmopolitan spider that's often confused with the "real" black widow spider, known for its powerful venom.
Adrienne Shapiro of Davis took this photo (below) of a spider on the Shapiro property (photographed and released). Her husband, Art, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, identified it as a female false black widow, Steatoda grossa.
"The overall appearance is very similar to the real thing, except it lacks the red spot on the belly and usually--but not always--has some yellow patterning on the dorsal abdomen: a crescent-like line at the anterior end and a row of triangular spots down the midline, visible here," Shapiro commented.
"But a few may be all black, or the yellow is barely visible," he noted. "This is a semi-cosmopolitan species usually found in or around buildings. It's originally from the Mediterranean region and in the United States and is mostly urban-bicoastal, absent from the heartland. Its habits are nearly identical to the black widow. It's not very common and I personally have never seen it in Davis before. The bite of the female IS venomous, but not to the degree a true black widow bite is. The symptoms are usually local pain, redness and blistering, but some people report generalized malaise for up to a couple of days. I am unaware of any deaths or serious sequelae."
Steve Heydon, senior museum scientist at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, says he gets a few calls about the false black widow. "Steatoda mostly lives under things on the ground," he said, "while the black widows live a little bit off the ground."
We've never seen the false black widow, but have seen numerous black widows (genus Latrodectus.) One black widow homesteaded on the rim of our swimming pool several years ago and we managed to photograph Mama straddling her egg cases. The familiar red hourglass was definitely visible!
The black widow's bite, particularly harmful to people, contains neurotoxin latrotoxin, which causes the condition latrodectism, both named for the genus. Only the female bite is harmful. But the bite is rarely fatal to humans.
We watched Mama scurry around, seemingly trying to protect both egg cases simultaneously from the long-lensed camera.
She was like a Mama Grizzly protecting her cubs.
We've seen monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries, Western tiger swallowtails, buckeyes, and fiery skippers nectaring on our Mexican sunflowers. But nary a common checkered skipper.
Where, we wondered, are the common checkered skippers?
Just as we were thinking that the common checkered skipper (Pyrgus communis) is not all that common and is not living up to its name, it appeared. Right on cue.
It nectared on the Tithonia and then fluttered away.
It will be back, according to butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, and Bohart Museum of Entomology associate Greg Kareofelas.
Its host plant is mallow and last spring we planted several tree mallows, Lavatera maritima--those drop-dead gorgeous plants with purple-throated pale lavender flowers. A bonus: unlike we Californians, the mallow loves the drought. It does not get thirsty. Plus, it attracts a variety of insects, and blooms much of the year.
Shapiro, who has monitored the Central California population of butterflies for more than four decades and maintains a website, Art's Butterfly World, says this about Pyrgus communis on his educational website:
"This familiar insect appears to be found from sea level to tree line-but things are more complicated than that. At the molecular-genetic level, the populations along our transect are apparently two different species. One is multiple-brooded and occurs as high as Lang Crossing (5000') on the Sierran West slope, and then again in Sierra Valley at 5000' on the East slope. These populations today breed largely on introduced weeds of the genus Malva (in the Sacramento Valley also on the native Alkali Mallow, Malvella leprosa, and on the now rare Checkerblooms, genus Sidalcea, in tule marshes). The other is single-brooded, occurs above 6000' (including Donner and Castle Peak) and breeds only on native Sidalcea. There are very slight 'statistical' differences in pattern, but the genitalia are the same. There seem to be occasional strays of the lowland animal picked up at Donner, mainly late in the season. In southern California occurs a morphospecies, P. albescens, which differs from communis in genitalia and is, like it, multiple-brooded. This animal, however, is molecularly indistinguishable from the univoltine Sierran (genitalic) communis!
"The lowland animal occurs anywhere in the open where hosts are nearby, including urban vacant lots and around ranch buildings and corrals. The montane animal occurs in open coniferous forest with Sidalcea in the understory, and along wood roads and paths. Both visit a great variety of flowers avidly. The flight seasons are March-November in the Central Valley, June-August in montane sites, and late March/April-October at Sierra Valley. (At Sierra Valley the univoltine animal is as close as the top of Yuba Pass.)
"Males are perchers, generally well off the ground, and extremely energetic fliers. They often appear blue in flight (females, lacking the silky hairs, do not)."
Plant mallow and they will come!/span>
So here's this praying mantis perched on top of a prickly pear cactus.
It's early morning and she's hungry.
A cabbage white butterfly, looking like a white-gowned princess in a medieval palace, flutters by and pauses on the prickly pear to seek some sunshine.
Oops! Fatal mistake. When you're seeking sun, do not do that in front of a predator.
Breakfast? Yes, that's what happened.
Before you feel sorry for the cabbage white butterfly, consider this: farmers who grow cole crops, such as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, would probably let out a shout of approval. That's because the cabbage white is considered a major pest of commercial cole crops. The butterfly lays her eggs--which are pale yellow to orange--in cole crops. The larvae, known as "green worms" or "green caterpillars," can cause major economic losses.
The cabbageworms have voracious appetites. They chew "large, irregular holes in leaves, born into heads, and drop greenish brown fecal pellets onto edible portions of the leaf," according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program's Pest Management Guidelines on "Imported Cabbageworm" (Pieris rapae).
In home gardens, the cabbage white is considered a minor pest, although gardeners aren't fond of cutting open a broccoli head only to see that cabbageworms got there first.
At UC Davis, the common cabbage white butterfly assumes a more scientific role. Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, hosts an annual "Butterfly for a Beer" contest. The first person in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano who brings in the first cabbage white of the year wins a pitcher of beer. It's all in the interest of science.
Shapiro, who does long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate, says the cabbage white 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.”
The 2016 winner was UC Davis graduate student Jacob Montgomery, who caught the cabbage white outside his home in West Davis.
Shapiro, who has monitored the Central California population of butterflies for more than four decades, says the cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here.
As for the praying mantis, the cabbage white butterfly was just...breakfast.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 email@example.com.
Have you ever seen a pink praying mantis, Stagmomantis californica?
No? Now you have.
Adrienne Austin-Shapiro of Davis yesterday spotted this pink praying mantis (below) on the second-floor wooden planking above Blondie's Pizza, 4th and G streets, Davis. She rescued it and placed it in better habitat--shrubbery---where she photographed it with her iphone.
Her husband, Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, emailed this remarkable photo to us.
"I've never seen a pink one--only pink katydids--though there is, of course, the famous pink Malaysian orchid mantis," he noted. "I imagine that molecularly, it's probably a similar mutant to the pink one in katydids--which is, by the way, dominant to green--but heavily selected against by visual predators."
Stagmomantis californica, commonly known as the California mantis, is native to the Western United States. There are green, yellow and brown varieties.
From Wikipedia: "Like all mantids, the California mantis is carnivorous, consuming virtually any other insect it perceives as small enough to be eaten, including other members of its own species. Males and females come together to reproduce but otherwise the adults are strictly solitary. Nymphs hatch in the spring from hard egg cases laid the previous fall. Adults do not overwinter—lifespan is seldom more than one year and usually less than nine months, with females sometimes surviving longer into the winter season than males, presumably allowing the females more time to lay their oothecas on suitable vegetation or rocks before dying. Though fast runners, both sexes are also capable of using their wings for flight, and the males are especially good flyers: the wings of the male extend well beyond the end of the abdomen, whereas those of the female do not extend more than half this distance. Males are often attracted to bright lights at night and can sometimes be found swarming around them along with other insects, though as ambush hunters, they fly at night primarily for dispersal and not in search of food."
So, a pink katydid? Yes, see one on the mudfooted.com website. (Katydids are usually green and are well camouflaged in green vegetation.) But now, a pink praying mantis? Well, let's see, it could camouflage itself on such pink flowers as foxgloves, salvias, zinnias, dahlias, roses, clover, orchids, violas and candytufts.
A pink predator in the pink...