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.
Ever heard of Schinia sueta?
It's a moth.
We spotted this little moth, from the Noctuidae family, in a meadow at the Hastings Preserve in Carmel in early May during the BugShot Macro Photography Course, taught by Alex Wild, John Abbott and Thomas Shahan.
The day-flying moth, as identified by butterfly experts Art Shapiro of UC Davis and Greg Kareofelas, an associate of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, stood out.
Schinia sueta is widespread in western North America. We were waiting for it to spread its wings in the meadow, filled with lupine, vetch and California golden poppies, and it finally did!
Speaking of moths, the Bohart Museum is hosting a "Moth Night"--the first of its kind held by the museum--on Saturday night, July 18 from 8 to 11 just outside its location, 1124 Academic Surge on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. Yes, that's 8 to 11. At night.
You'll learn how to collect moths and how to identify them. You won't see Schinia sueta, but you'll see other moths! The event is free and open to the public. It's also the last weekend open house of the academic year.
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum.
The museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The facility is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free. More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or Tabatha Yang, education and public outreach coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.