Have you seen me? Can you identify me?
No, you're a skipper, but which one are you?
The colorful brown skipper butterfly that touched down on our Jupiter's Beard in Vacaville, Calif., on May 17 puzzled us. First skipper we've seen this year in our pollinator garden, but what was it?
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who has studied butterflies for more than four decades--and who posts his research and observations on his Art's Butterfly World website--identified it as Poanes (Paratrytone) melane, the Umber Skipper.
"It's having a HUGE year," Shapiro told us today. "It was extinct in Davis for over 30 years! But it came back a few years ago."
The Umber Skipper is also recorded on his website. "Although common in parts of the Bay Area where it is an urban 'lawn skipper,'" on our transect this is entirely a species of riparian forest and is generally uncommon or even rare. It perches in dappled light and shade along streamsides, generally well off the ground...In Berkeley it breeds happily on Bermuda Grass, which seems to have not discovered farther inland."
The Poanes melane adults visit Yerba Santa, dogbane, milkweed, thistles, yellowstar thistle, California buckeye, and coyote bush, among others.
The larvae of this skipper feed on the leaves of various grasses. Wikipedia describes the wings as "umber brown, the forewing with a darker disc and pale spots and the hindwing with a light yellow-brown band."
Quick research indicates that J. B. Heppener of the UC Berkeley Department of Entomology wrote about its 1941 spread in San Diego County in a piece published in 1972 in the Journal of Research on the Lepitoptera. He mentioned that when it spread into San Diego County in 1941 it "was sudden and well noted by resident collectors due to its previous absence from the county."
San Diego residents reportedly first encountered it in August 1941. "F. T. Thorne was one of the first collectors to encounter melane and he vividly recounts his excitement upon realizing what was being caught," Heppener wrote.
We know that feeling...that excitement!
So there we were, on Mother's Day, looking at the yet-to-bloom English lavender in our yard.
And there it was, something golden staring back at us.
It was showing a face that "only a mother could love"--or an entomologist or an insect enthusiast.
Scathophaga stercoraria, the golden dung fly. A red-eyed blond fly.
It's a beneficial insect. The larvae are often found in the feces of large animals, including horses, cattle, sheep, deer and wild boar, where the insect breeds. (Note: We have no horses, cattle, sheep, deer or wild boar near us!) The larvae eat the dung, making this insect important to natural decomposition.
The adult is a predator, it hunts for flies and other small insects. The adults also sip nectar, just like honey bees and other pollinators. Nearby was another golden dung fly, dead. Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, looked at its swollen belly and said it died "from entomophagous fungus--perhaps the same one that 'glues' houseflies to window panes."
For more information on these fascinating insects, check out the BugGuide.Net entry on the golden dung fly. The insect was first described in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus as Musca stercoraria, according to BugGuide.Net.
Like a ballerina on the dance floor of life, a newly eclosed Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, flutters from its host plant, a sycamore tree, to a crape myrtle.
The yellow-and-black butterfly spreads its wings, warming its flight muscles.
It lingers longer than it should (predators abound), but it is in no hurry and neither are we. It folds its wings, looks at the near-cloudless blue sky, and just pauses.
This tiger has no paws, but it knows how to pause.
"The Western tiger swallowtail is basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse," says butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. "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," he writes on his website. "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)."
Soon the Western tiger swallowtail will head for a nectar floral source and find a mate--not necessarily in that order.
Have a safe flight!
You're on a winning streak when you spot a gray hairstreak.
No, not the streak in Grandpa's hair--the streak on Grandma's flowers.
It's the gray hairstreak butterfly, Strymon mellinus, also known as the common hairstreak.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, says the gray hairstreak does well in towns and cities in the Central Valley. "It is multiple-brooded and has a very long flight season, at sea level from February to November, but rarely seen before June in the mountains where it does not appear able to overwinter," he says on his website. "Early spring specimens are small and very dark with reduced red markings; "albinos," with the red replaced by pale yellow, occur mostly in the spring brood. There is much minor variation. Adults visit an immense variety of flowers, both wild and cultivated. They are particularly addicted to Heliotrope and white-flowered Apiaceae."
Lately we've been seeing the gray hairstreak on our Spanish lavender, although it also frequents mallows, white clover, alfalfa and other plants.
If you're into hairstreaks, be sure to check out the Green Hairstreak Butterfly Festival, a Nature-in-the-City event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, April 15 at the Hoover Middle School, 2290 14th Ave., San Francisco.
We're assured that the Green Hairstreak Butterfly Festival has landed. Or maybe fluttered down...
"Spring is back and so is our local butterfly, the green hairstreak," festival organizers said. "In 2006, the community of District 7 came together to save this butterfly from disappearing. Habitat restoration and community stewardship were our main tools. Now we have a robust corridor, or butterfly highway, where we can find this nickel-sized, brightly green butterfly flying from Hawk Hill to Rocky Outcrop to the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps!"
It's a family event. Plans call for an outdoor classroom "to teach you about the butterfly, how to find it, and how to help maintain its unique habitat for all local pollinators. In addition, there will be contests, prizes, artwork, hands-on activities, access to local nature groups and plants, baked goods and crafts to take home." (Read about the Green Hairstreak corridor.)
The gray hairstreak, Strymon mellinus, and the green hairstreak, Callophrys viridis, belong to the same family Lycaenidae, which includes more than 6000 species worldwide or about 30 percent of the known butterfly species, according to Wikipedia.
Strymon, the genus name, is derived from the Strymon River in Bulgaria and Greece; the species name, melinus, means gray in Greek. The green hairstreak? Its genus name, Callophyrs, is Greek for "beautiful eyebrows" and its species name, viridis, is Latin for green.
Check out Shapiro's web page on Lycaenidae, to see other gossamer-wing family members in the Central Valley...and maybe boost your winning streak./span>
Greg Kareofelas, a Bohart Museum of Entomology associate with expertise on local butterflies, will be at the Bohart Museum's open house on Sunday, March 19 from 1 to 4 p.m. to meet informally with visitors, talk about butterflies and answer their questions.
The open house, themed "Eggs to Wings: Backyard Butterfly Gardening," takes place in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. It is free and open to the public. No reservations are required.
“I've always had an interest in butterflies since I was a little kid,” said Kareofleas, a Davis resident who has studied butterflies “seriously” since the late 1970s. "Back then, there was no Internet and books on butterflies in California were minimal and it seemed that most of the books published were on East Coast butterflies or butterflies out of our region. It was the late 1970s, after all, and we couldn't just go on the Internet for butterfly identification.”
It was then that Kareofelas met butterfly guru Arthur Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. Shapiro, involved in butterfly research for more than four decades, now posts his work on his website.) Shapiro authored Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions (University of California Press, 2007).
Kareofelas, a naturalist and avid photographer, now spends much of his time researching and photographing butterflies, as well as dragonflies and other insects, and speaking to nature-oriented organizations. He is also a regular at the Bohart Museum open houses where he enthusiastically talks about insects he's encountered.
UC Davis offers great resources, Kareofelas says. “For instance, you can get an insect identified at the Bohart Museum, and a plant identified at the Herbarium. And then there are the great resources like the Sacramento Native Plant Society, the UC Davis Botanical Society and the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden."
Kareofelas is pleased to see the growing interest in butterflies and their larval host plants (where butterflies lay their eggs). “All you need is a yard to attract them,” he said. “Plant the larval host plants. Plant nectar plants, such as the butterfly bush, for the adults."
Want monarchs living in our backyard? “Plant milkweed, their larval host plant," Karofelas says.
Kareofelas mentioned a few host plants that will draw specific species:
- Plant pipevine, aka Dutchmen's pipe, for the Pipevine Swallowtails
- Plant passionflower vine for the Gulf Fritillaries
- Plant fennel for the Anise Swallowtails
- Plant baby tears (in the nettle family) for Red Admirals
- Plant snagdragons for Buckeyes
- Plant Rose of Sharon for the Gray Hairstreaks
- Plant mallow for the Checkered Skippers
Kareofelas has reared all the common species, as well some of the rare ones, including the California dogface butterfly, the state insect. With permission, he collected eggs from the rarely seen California dogface butterfly at its most populous breeding site, on Placer Land and Trust acreage near Auburn. The butterfly (Zerene eurydice) lays its eggs on false indigo (Amorpha californica).
Kareofelas, who serves as a guide several times a year for tours hosted by Placer Land and Trust, said that one result of rearing the California dogface butterfly is the publication of the 35-page children's book, "The Story of the Dogface Butterfly," written by Bohart associate Fran Keller (now an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College) with illustrations by then UC Davis student Laine Bauer, and photos by Kareofelas and Keller.
The book, available in the Bohart Museum's gift shop, tells the untold story of the California dogface butterfly, and how schoolchildren became involved in convincing the State Legislature to select the colorful butterfly as the state insect. (See Bug Squad.)
The Bohart Museum's open house on Sunday will showcase butterflies in the area. A family craft activity will be making "wiggling caterpillars," with straw and paper, said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart.
Directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, the Bohart Museum is a world-renowned insect museum that houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It also maintains a live “petting zoo,” featuring walking sticks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches and tarantulas. A gift shop, open year around, offers T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free. Special open houses take place throughout the academic year. The one on March 19 is the second to the last of the 2016-2017 academic year. The last one is Saturday, April 22, the campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day.