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.
If you go looking for a bumble bee, you might find a butterfly.
And vice versa.
The UC Davis Arboretum last Saturday (Feb. 6), was just starting to "get its spring on." We spotted a few honey bees and syrphid flies foraging on daphne (Daphne odora) in the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden, but nearby, in the Carolee Shields White Flower Garden and Gazebo, a single butterfly fluttered down on a silver anniversary butterfly bush (Buddleia “Morning Mist").
Could it be? It was. A mourning cloak, Nymphalis antiopa. Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, said "Congratulations--good show. The first spotting (of the year) in the Valley." Shapiro has monitored the butterfly populations of the Central Valley for more than four decades, and posts his research on his website.
After perching on the butterfly bush, the mourning cloak soared high and then touched down on the sign that read "Silver Anniversary Butterfly Bush. Buddleia “Morning Mist.” What are the odds?
On his website, Shapiro describes the mourning cloak as a "very distinctive and charismatic butterfly, best known for its conspicuous activity in late winter, flying and acting territorial before any trees have leafed out or any wildflowers are active...in recent years populations of this butterfly have collapsed regionally; it disappeared from West Sacramento for several years and has been very scarce and erratic at other low-altitude sites; there was some improvement in 2005 and numbers of hibernators at low altitude were up in 2006, but very bad weather may have prevented much if any recovery."
Shapiro has seen two this year at higher elevations but not in the valley--yet. "In the Sacramento Valley there appears to be only one brood (in spring); the resulting adults migrate upslope and breed in the mountains," he says on his website. "There is a reverse downslope migration by the next generation, in late September-October. It is not obvious why this seasonal altitudinal migration occurs, but both the California and Milbert's Tortoiseshells, its closest relatives, do it, too."
The mourning cloak, native to Europe and North America and widespread throughout the world, is the state insect of Montana. It's distinguished by its purple-black color, iridescent blue spots, and a yellow border on its upperside. The adults feed on oak tree sap, rotting fruit, and "occasionally on flower nectar," according to Butterflies and Moths of North America. Caterpillar hosts are willows including black willow (Salix nigra), weeping willow (S. babylonica), and silky willow (S. sericea); also American elm (Ulmus americana), cottonwood (Populus deltoides), aspen (P. tremuloides), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), and hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). Older caterpillars wander about and may be found on plants that they do not eat."
The UC Davis Arboretum will be the site of scores of visitors on Saturday, Feb. 13 during the fifth annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. The campuswide event, free and open to the public, will take place at 11 different sites:
- Anthropology Collections, Young Hall, open noon to 4 p.m.
- Arboretum, Headquarters along LaRue Road, open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Bohart Museum of Entomology, Academic Surge Building, open noon to 4 p.m.
- Botanical Conservatory, greenhouses along Klieber Hall Drive, open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- California Raptor Center, Old Davis Road, open 9 a.m. to noon
- Center for Plant Diversity, Sciences Lab Building, open 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, Bee Biology Road, open 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Academic Surge Building, open noon to 4 p.m.
- Nematode Collection, Sciences Lab Building, open 1 to 4 p.m.
- Paleontology Collections, Earth and Physical Sciences Building, open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building, open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
And maybe--just maybe--visitors to the UC Davis Arboretum will see a mourning cloak.
Or maybe the first bumble bee of the year...a queen black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus?
If you go looking for a butterfly, you might find a bumble bee.
And he wasn't even looking for it.
A UC Davis graduate student won the “Beer for a Butterfly” contest by collecting the first cabbage white butterfly of the year Saturday morning, Jan. 16 outside his home in West Davis.
Jacob Montgomery, a master's student in ecology, said he was walking out of his home around 10:30, heading for the Farmers' Market, when he spotted the cabbage white butterfly perched on his lavender.
“It was cold and rainy and the butterfly's wings looked bent like it had just hatched,” Montgomery said. “It was not difficult to catch. I picked it up by hand…I had been aware of the contest but not actively searching for the butterflies. It was completely opportunistic.”
Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology who has sponsored the contest since 1972 as part of his four-decade study of climate and butterfly seasonality, identified it as a female with a damaged forewing.
Shapiro awards a pitcher of beer, or the equivalent, for the first cabbage white of the year found in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano. Montgomery collected his prize, Great White beer, on Tuesday night at The Graduate.
The two shared beer and talked butterflies.
The cabbage white (Pieris rapae) probably eclosed or hatched around 7:30 that morning, said Shapiro, who has earlier predicted that the first butterfly of 2016 would be collected in mid-January.
Shapiro's former graduate student, Matt Forister, an associate professor at the University of Nevado, Reno, plots the first-flight dates and also predicted it would be found about now.
Montgomery's catch means that “now we should be seeing more and more of them after three to five days,” Shapiro said.
The UC Davis student studies plankton production dynamics in the delta and how plankton function as a food source for fishes. “More specifically, how do hydrodynamics, land management practices and slough geomorphology contribute to aquatic productivity and influence abundance and distribution of plankton?”
This makes only the fourth time that Shapiro, who is out in the field more than 200 times a year, has been defeated. His graduate student Adam Porter defeated him in 1983; and his graduate students Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s.
“I sort of consider this is a liberation because now I don't have to look for it every time the sun comes out in January—now I can relax,” Shapiro said. “Jacob's win shows that the contest isn't rigged,” he said, smiling. “Some think the contest is all a sham.”
“If this starts happening every year like this, that's when I should retire,” quipped Shapiro, who turned 70 last week.
Shapiro 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.”
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, the professor said. “There have been only two occasions in the 21st century in which it has come out this late: Jan. 26, 2006 and Jan 31, 2011.”
Shapiro won the 2015 contest by netting a cabbage white at 12:30 p.m.. Monday, Jan. 26 in West Sacramento, Yolo County. The site: a mustard patch near the railroad tracks.
Shapiro does long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate. "Such studies are especially important to help us understand biological responses to climate change,” he said. “The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here."
Shapiro, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Entomological Society and the California Academy of Sciences, maintains a website on butterflies at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/, where he records the population trends he monitors in Central California. He and artist Tim Manolis co-authored A Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, published in 2007 by the University of California Press.